About Les Miserables
This year Salesianum School is celebrating the 450th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis de Sales and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Brisson, founder of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. Further, our school theme this year is, "Change You, Change the World". In order to connect our theatrical programming to our theme for the year, and our institutional celebrations Les Misérables was the ONLY choice for production.
In the novel, author Victor Hugo frequently expresses frustration with, and critique of, the Catholic Church of his time. However, the primary shift of character for his protagonist, Jean Valjean, comes as a result of Valjean's treatment at the hands of Bishop Myriel. There is a fair bit of academic support for the idea that the character of Myriel shares a number of characteristics with the "gentle saint"...none other than St. Francis de Sales.
For our purposes of leaning into that aspect of the story we are even more heavily relying on our Salesian tradition. We are positioning our production within a France that Louis Brisson would initimately recognize. Addressing the social ills of the time, the poverty, the lack of access to education, the abject suffering, was vital a Brisson's work. By creating a version of Bishop Myriel in the image of Blessed Louis Brisson we're able to begin to explore this classic musical with a lens unique to Salesianum School Theater.
Another incredibly important aspect of our production is our reading of the epilogue. The lyrics to the familiar melody may be lost on some fans who are so taken by the sweeping emotion of the moment that the details get caught up:
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!
This idea that the people who sing, the song of angry men, do so as heralds of a future made bright by their sacrifice is a simple enough idea. However, when it is applied to the narrative structure of Les Misérables it becomes something more far-reaching, relevant, or even demanding. The concept that the student revolutionaries of this show, the Barricade Boys (and girls...we are both historically accurate and contemporarily cognizant in our presentation), make a sacrifice for the greater good is clear. When Valjean reaches the end of his days, only when he sees that Cosette has a true future at the side of Marius, is he able to let go and join the other ghosts...spirits...of sacrificial grace. It is vital that in the closing moment of the show we hear the voice of the people, not individuals, who speak of a tomorrow being born forward on the backs of...the people. Like them. Willing to fight, and sacrifice, and die, in service of a future they will never, themselves, see. This beautiful possibility that they speak of is the reality in which we live; A darker, angrier, more conflicted time than they thought we would face. All the more important is their message, that we must identify the world we long to see, we must be strong and stand for something in order to bring about a world we so deeply long to see. This is the final message of our work, this is what this show is..."about"... Our obligation to work towards the betterment of the world. As Salesian brothers and sisters we are called to change ourselves to change the world. It is through the growth that happens by our artistic work that we can identify the change we wish to see in the world. It is through the conversations and conflict that can arise around any great piece of art that we can identify who we are, and begin to be that well. This is a truly Salesian piece of theater, presented in a manner that, to the best of our ability, reflects the ideas and ideals of the visionary and the founder, of de Sales and Brisson.