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‘Les Mis’: Sex, War, and the Casual Degradation of Women?

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“Les Miserables,” written by Victor Hugo and adapted into the phenomenal musical it is today by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, follows four storylines which can be quite confusing at first but later comes together quite nicely. The national tour of the hit musical recently had a successful week-long at the Fox Theatre in Midtown. In the beginning, we see Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell), who has been in and out of prison for stealing bread for his sister’s children and simply wanting to lead a normal life.

It can be said that throughout the entire play, their social justice system is a bit… skewed. I mean, Inspector Javert (Josh Davis) becomes obsessed with the incarceration of Jean even though he was released from prison. When Valjean is caught stealing from a bishop,  he is merciful and gives him the goods but tells him he must turn his life around and become an honest man. This is where we meet Fantine (Mary Kate Moore), who is a working mother who turns to being a working woman to support her child. When her boss finds that she is pregnant after her coworkers call her out because her pay is short, she is fired and put on the street. As a working woman, she refuses to serve, gets beaten and then the cops are called on her. Jean doesn’t allow her to be arrested, but gets her to a doctor where Fantine tells him about her child who is young and in need of help. Jean sees this as his chance to finally redeem himself and takes it upon himself to go and find her little Cosette (Aubin Bradley/Cate Ellefante).

Little Cosette’s living situation heavily mirrors Cinderella and her step mother’s and sister’s relationship. The people who care for her are scam artists and very clearly abuse her. She is treated as their help and is sent out to fetch water in the woods at night. Soon, Jean finds her and pays off her debts to the people and promises to care for her. It’s a sweet sentiment seeing him hold his promise to Fantine and to the bishop about turning his life around. Speeding years into the future and on the verge of the French Revolution, Cosette (Jillian Butler) is older now and has a friend named Eponine (Paige Smallwood), who is obviously in love with her neighbor and friend Marius (Joshua Grosso). Marius quickly falls for Cosette, who has no knowledge of Epinine’s feelings.

Now, not to spoil an ending, but before the French Revolution is won, there are a few deaths that will tug at all your heartstrings once you’ve gotten attached to these characters. Beyond that, “Les Mis,” offers something for everyone to connect with, whether it be Epinine’s tough love life, Cosette’s unusual upbringing, or Jean Valjean’s haunted past following him no matter how hard he tries to right it.

“Les Mis” also tends to be quite sexist and no one questions it for a second. In “At The End Of The Day” the characters sing about how Cosette is coming up short on cash. Before her boss finds out he sings and “feels her up” then as soon as she confirms that she isn’t “pure” and has a child, he is instantly disgusted. This is the disgusting double standard that as soon as a woman isn’t doing things only for you, or for you at all, she is nothing to you and useless. If a man were to do the same thing, he’d have the same amount of respect he always possessed, if not more. Even the song “The Docks (Lovely Ladies)” opens with the objectification of women.  To the male characters, the women are just sex objects, which is unfair even if they are “women of the night.” The most controversial part of the song and scene occurs when Fantine refuse to give up her body for the use and pleasure of a man because he wanted a woman who “couldn’t refuse.”

In all, I had an excellent experience at “Les Miserables.” My only quarrel with the musical is the length and the speed at which all the actors sing. Be sure that you go see on a full set of rest and do yourself the small favor of listening to the soundtrack, the cast album or the show’s most popular songs beforehand. It makes the experience easier and you’re able to enjoy the show a lot more instead of having to work really hard to understand what is being said.

This play is definitely one to check out, especially, if you enjoy the history and how the musical’s story intertwines the major events of history and people’s personal lives.

VOX ATL teen reviewers had the opportunity to attend the press night performance of “Les Miserables” at the Fox Theatre, thanks to the generosity of Most Valuable Kids of Greater Atlanta and Broadway in Atlanta.

Aaliyah Bates, 17, attends Banneker High, and her favorite character from the musical “Les Miserables” is Epinine.

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