Les Misérables is the longest-running play in Broadway history and a favorite musical for many (including me!). But should you bring the kids when it comes to your town or leave them home with the sitter? Here’s what you need to know before you go.
I saw Les Misérables for the first time on a French class field trip when I was in 7th grade — and I was smitten. Looking back, there is are a couple of reasons why this became the PLAY OF ALL PLAYS for me that night. For one thing, I was heavily involved in musical theater, and had been all my life. Seeing Broadway-caliber actors live was hugely inspiring. More importantly, though, our teacher had prepared us for what we were about to see. As it turns out, this was the key to enjoying the play, both for kids and adults.
Les Miserables is 2 hours and 55 minutes long, so younger children are probably not going to be able to sit through it. I’d recommend it for ages ten and up, and even then only if they can sit quietly — There are some really pivotal scenes in which the audience will be sitting completely still and you definitely don’t want your kid to be that one person whispering and unwrapping candy! It’s also important for both kids and adults to approach this play more as a modern-day opera than as a typical Broadway play. When we go to an opera, we always read through the storyline ahead of time so that we can enjoy the music and have a sense of the storyline unfolding before us. Do the same for Les Misérables and you will enjoy it far more than if you go not having any idea of what’s going to happen.
I took my 10 and 13-year-olds to see Les Misérables and they both loved it, but I know that if I hadn’t told them the story ahead of time –and talked through it and answered their questions at intermission — they would have had a very different reaction. I really loved discussing the play with them because it gave me a chance to tell them all about the French Revolution and the unrest in the city between rich and poor after that time. It’s important to note that Les Misérables documents an uprising that actually took place after the French Revolution and ended in defeat — You can read all about it here. That said, you can talk about how emotions from the French Revolution would have carried over and fomented insurrections like the one in the play.
Just as compelling are the moral issues up for discussion in the play. I love the battle of emotions between the convict Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert. Jean Valjean does wrong according to law several times in order to do right, while Javert believes following the letter of the law at all times is the only proper way. Who’s right? It’s a good question for kids to sort through and try to answer. We also see the characters make sacrifices for those they love over and over again, even when it costs them dearly. There are a whole lot of intricate emotional dilemmas going on in this play, and much to discuss.
As for sensitive subject matter, there are several deaths, including the death of a child, as well as a few curse words and a scene involving 19th century streetwalkers peddling their wares. This scene is bawdy but very much PG-13, and it all went right over my 10-year-old son’s head.
Once your children are prepared, they’ll be able to enjoy the absolutely stunning music, the world-class singing and acting, and the stirring emotion that make Les Misérables a sell-out play even now. I have no doubt my kids will want to see it again the very next time it comes to our town.