Reviewing the Songs of Les Mis

This will be mega post. I decided to put together all the Les Mis songs and analyze each one of them in one post. So due to that, this will be a spoiler heavy post. I will not do all the bits of the musical, but have many of them.

Work Song:

This song opens up the show. This is when we understand the harsh conditions that prisoners have to experience. We are first introduced to Jean Valjean, the protagonist, in this number. We hear the prisoners anger and we can just see how extreme the work the prisoners all have to do. We learn that Valjean was in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family and was sentenced for five years, but fourteen extra for trying to escape. Even though it was his time to leave prison, he was sent to live the rest of his life on parole. We get to meet Javert, the antagonist, later on in the number. We learn that Javert doesn’t really care about Valjean’s story at all.

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What Have I Done:

This song is an epiphany song for Jean Valjean. Valjean was just shown an incredible amount of mercy in the previous moment. The bishop let Valjean stay there for the night and gave him a meal, but Valjean stole some silver, but the bishop forgave him. This song is when he reflects on his life as a prisoner and what he learned from the bishop. He realizes he has to become a better person, but to do that means breaking parole. He thinks about the mercy the bishop gave him, which taught him the ways of the Lord. Valjean decides to live by the example set buy the bishop. He expresses the guilt and anger he had of being a prisoner and expresses the compassion shown by the bishop. So this was a huge turning point in Valjean’s life.

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At the End of the Day: Time advances to 1823

So much is going on in this number. First you are introduced to the poor and you learn their conditions and it is not looking good for them. They seem to be treated unfairly. Then you advance into the factory and that is where you first are introduced to Fantine, a struggling young single mother. The factory women are spreading rumors about her and steal a letter and all the factory workers learn that she has a daughter, which turns into a fight between Fantine and a factory worker. The foreman is the one to settle things and the women convince him to fire her and they do. This song illustrates how unfairly both women and the poor are treated in 1823. So it is quite dangerous to have an illegitimate child. So it is a number where sadness and heartbreak and desperation are expressed.

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I Dreamed a Dream:

This is Fantine’s solo number. Here you learn about Fantine’s background. You learn that Cosette’s biological father abandoned her and her daughter, Cosette. You learn how naive she once was and she still is a bit naive. She is devastated that she no longer has any income in order to pay for Cosette. She had dreams once, but now they are shattered. This is a very heartbreaking number and now Fantine has to do whatever she can do to pay for Cosette. The melody is extremely beautiful and such a wonderful song to listen to.

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Lovely Ladies:

This song is the hardest song and scene to watch and listen to. This number is when you really get to see how desperate Fantine is. She sells her locket, her hair, and herself to get money for Cosette. This is when she turns to prostitution in order to care for her child. While she hates her life, she does it out of love for Cosette. She has such a selfless love for her child. You might think this choice is a bit selfish since she is now a prostitute, but women did not have many options so prostitution was her only option. While the melody is quite catchy, it is still a tough song to watch, which is even harder to watch than death scenes.

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Who Am I:

Previously in the runaway cart scene where Valjean helped rescue a man who was trapped under a cart, Valjean learned that “Valjean” was arrested and about to be sentenced. Valjean knowing that an innocent man was accused of being him, Valjean is faced with a moral dilemma and he has such a big decision to make. Does he not turn himself in to protect his factory or does he go to court and tell the truth? Valjean never forgot how unfairly prisoners are treated and that is does harden you and he can’t bare to see an innocent man get the same fate he got. But in the end, he makes the right choice by turning himself in even though it puts his workers and his job in trouble, but he still made the right choice.

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Come to Me:

This is the first death scene in the musical. In a few scenes back, Valjean intervened to keep Fantine from being arrested. Even though Fantine is weak and dying, she is still concerned about the well-being of her daughter. Valjean shows compassion to Fantine and agrees to raise Cosette as his own. This gives Fantine peace and comfort for once. This really goes to show how much Fantine loves her daughter and she hopes her daughter will have to better future. This is quite a memorable death scene.

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Confrontation:

This immediately follows Fantine’s death. Valjean and Javert are having an argument. Javert tries to arrest Valjean and Valjean tries to prove he has become a better man and a promise to fulfill. This song goes to show how badly Javert wants to arrest Valjean for breaking parole.

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Castle on a Cloud:

This is when we first are introduced to Cosette. She is only eight and we realize that she is not treated very fairly. She is horribly abused by the Thenardiers. They force her to be a servant and she is quite a broken child but with an amazing spirit. She has hope she will one day be rescued. This is a cute, but heartbreaking song.

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Master of the House:

I am so glad this number exists. This is the big comic relief number. You already have seen a lot of heartbreak. The opening number is already heartbreaking and after that leading up to the bishop, Valjean is treated unfairly by society since he is a prisoner. You have gone through Fantine’s storyline, which is so hard to watch and you see how much Cosette is being abused. So you need a bit of comic relief. This song highlights the pick-pocket nature of the Thenardiers, but at the same time, you can’t stop but laugh. This is a very catchy song and is much-needed.

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Suddenly: Original song in the movie

This number is only in the movie, but it is important to understand Valjean’s love for Cosette. Valjean has already taken Cosette away from the Thenardiers. Ever since leaving prison, Valjean has never known love and Cosette has never known love either. Valjean has just become a father in the most unexpected of ways. You start to understand how much Cosette means to him. He is filled up with love and he knows he can’t tell Cosette about his past and will protect her. This song is so beautiful and love seeing this scene play out in the movie. Valjean knows it will be tough raising her since he is always on the run due to being an ex-convict.

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Look Down: Paris, 1832- the last time switch.

Similar to “At The End of the Day”, you see the conditions of the poor. You realize that things haven’t changed much. The poor still aren’t treated right. You are introduced to the rest of the characters. You first come across Gavroche, Marius, and Enjolras in this number. Gavroche ends up introducing you to the Thenardiers and their daughter, Eponine. You realize that the family is now poor and living on the streets of Paris and they are scamming people out of money forcing Eponine to be part of the schemes and she is the one who watches out for the police. With Marius and Enjolras, you learn of the outbreak of cholera epidemic since General Lamarque is dying of cholera. You start to see their plans for an uprising. This has such an epic feel to the song. So much is happening in this number, but very important.

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Stars:

This is Javert’s first solo. This song is very hard to describe. You see that Javert has a religious aspect of him. This is Javert lying out his beliefs and he is saying how he is devoting himself to the law especially for capturing Valjean. I still struggle with understanding what this song is about. Even though I don’t like Javert, it still is such a beautiful song, but is an important song for getting to know Javert.

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Red and Black:

This is when we are introduced to the rest of the students who are part of this political group. You learn their passion towards the uprising and you also are first introduced to their brotherly love of each other. You learn that Enjolras is the leader. In terms of Marius, he has just fallen in love with Cosette before Stars. He is a bit distracted by the girl he loves. Even though he is close to the students, he is so much distracted by this girl, but yet he has no idea who her name is yet.

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Do You Hear the People Sing:

This is the number when the students go out into the street trying to rally some support. This is quite a passionate number and they are hoping others will join them. This is when you learn about their hope and passion for the rebellion that is to eventually come.

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In My Life:

This is really the first number you are introduced to adult Cosette. She is reflecting on Marius, the boy she is in love with, and wants to know more about her adopted father. You learn just how sheltered and protected she is. She is demanding to know more about Valjean. Later on in the number, Valjean enters and that is when she wants to know more answers about his past and she seems to know how dark his past is, but he really doesn’t want to tell Cosette about his past. The second half of this song is between Marius and Eponine. Well right before Stars, Marius asks Eponine to find where Cosette lives and though reluctant, she agrees seeing it will make him happy. It is already clear she loves Marius before “In My Life”. Marius keeps on talking about Cosette in front of Eponine oblivious to her love for him. She is reflecting on the fact that the words he is saying hurts knowing that he will never love her.

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A Heart Full of Love:

This song is mainly a love duet between Marius and Cosette. They first mainly meet each other and learn each others names. Throughout most of the number, you feel happy for them. But towards the end, Eponine joins in reflecting on her unrequited love for Marius and than it is conflicting between feeling happy for Marius and Cosette, but at the same time feeling heartbroken for Eponine. That is part of why this love triangle is so effective.  This song is very romantic and very beautiful.

One Day More: Act I Closer

This song is one of the best ways to end the first act. You have each character talking about their passion, which eventually overlaps. They are curious what the next day will hold since the uprising is the next day. Valjean’s reflects on his past, Cosette and Marius bring up their love for each other, Eponine reflects on her love for Marius and knowing he does not notice that she does love him, Enjolras reflects on the uprising, Javert talks about how he plans to spy on the students and the Thenardiers plan to rob the dead in the sewers. The citizens are in this number too also curious what the next day will hold. But when their passions all overlap, it is quite powerful. It is hard to describe how powerful this song is, but perfectly ends act I.

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Before moving on to On My Own, I just want to mention that the students are starting to build the barricade. Based on the stage show, Marius saw Eponine disguised as a boy and gives her a letter to give to Cosette. While that seems selfish, it is not because he just wants Eponine safe. I brought all of this up to show that On My Own does not open up act II exactly.

On My Own:

This is Eponine’s main solo. In the intro part, you learn a bit more about Eponine’s life. You realize just how alone she is. She does not have a home because she is living on the streets. Marius is literally all she has in life. In this song, she reflects on the current situation she finds herself in. This song is about her unrequited love, but goes beyond her unrequited love. You learn she gets through the day by visualizing that Marius is in love with her even if she knows it just a fantasy that she is creating. As the song continues, you realize how strong her love for Marius is. She will always stay by his side and love him even though he doesn’t love her. He is the only happiness in her life. Towards the end, you realize that she does not have much happiness in her life. This is such a beautiful and very heartbreaking song.

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A Little Fall of Rain:

Eponine has just returned to the barricades. She eventually is shot and her wound would turn out to be fatal. Despite knowing she is dying, she still looks for Marius. After she collapsed in his arms, Marius realizes she is shot and weak and dying. Knowing this, it worries him and hurts him a lot. Even though he is devastated, he shows Eponine an incredible act of compassion by holding her, being with her and comforting her while she is in a lot of pain.

Eponine realizes just how much Marius cares for her. She is feeling this incredible sense of happiness even though she is dying. The song is quite tender and intimate. This scene is very hard on Marius, but never leaves her side. The first thing Marius says after she dies is “her name was Eponine, her life was cold and dark, yet she was unafraid”. Even though he didn’t love her, he knew that her life was not easy and knew just how brave she was. This is my favorite death scene in the musical. It is hard to find the joy in this if you didn’t realize how dark Eponine’s life and how strong her love for Marius is.

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Drink With Me:

The students already know just how outnumbered they are. This shows their vulnerable side. This shows the friendship in such a beautiful way. It is very intimate but very devastating. They know they are going to die and they know it is a lost cause and they still have such a brotherly love for each other. This is the last moment they really have with each other. Marius expresses about Cosette wondering if she is going to miss him if he dies. Plus, he is still devastated over Eponine’s death. This is such a beautiful and intimate song to listen to.

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Bring Him Home:

While the students are sleeping, Valjean is praying to God to make sure Marius survives. He came to the barricades to protect Marius since Cosette loves him. This is such a soulful and beautiful piece and it really shows just how much Valjean loves God. This song is a bit sad especially when you realize that Marius will be the only one to survive.

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Before going on into the next song, I just want to say that during the final battle, the students still decide to fight even if they are going to die. Marius eventually falls unconscious and Valjean carries him and the only way to escape is through the sewers.

Dog Eats Dog:

This is my least favorite song from the musical. This is when you see Thenardier robbing of the corpses. You really see his villainous nature in this number. But still, my least favorite number. Thenardier is so frustrating. You can love him in one way but hate him in another.

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Javert’s Suicide:

At the barricade, Valjean has shown Javert an incredible act of mercy by forgiving him and letting him go. This puts Javert in quite a dilemma and Javert even lets Valjean go after Valjean emerges from the sewers carrying Marius. Javert’s view of life has been conflicted. He realizes that people can change and realizes he has set his principles and beliefs all wrong. Even though the law says it is against the rules to break parole, but doesn’t want to chase Valjean any further because Valjean changed and has become a better person. He no longer sees a purpose in life so he kills himself. This is a big epiphany for Javert. He could have received the mercy and forgiveness from Valjean but he doesn’t accept it.

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Turning:

This song is a heartbreaker. The women are singing about how the students have all lost their lives and about what they were fighting for. They were only students and died in one night. These women were related to the boys in one way or another. They realize that not much has changed since those boys died.

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Empty Chairs at Empty Tables:

This song is extremely heartbreaking. Marius is the only survivor and feels like he should have died as well. Marius has lost everyone he cares about except for Cosette at the barricade. He first lost Eponine and eventually lost Gavroche, Enjolras, and the other students in one night. He has gone through so much trauma. He has no idea how he managed to survive. This song reminds you of the unsuccessful nature of the uprising. Marius is very devastead and quite broken.

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Wedding/Beggars at the Feast:

This song is during the wedding of Marius and Cosette. The Thenardiers crash the wedding and gave away some crucial information to Marius. Marius learns that it was Valjean who saved him. In the scene previously, Valjean told Marius about his past. In this particular number, he realizes it was Valjean who rescued him so he knows he wants to thank Valjean. The Thenardiers provide another comic relief number, which is Beggars the Feast. Act II almost needs the comic relief much more than Act I. Act II has many more deaths.

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Finale:

This number starts out with Valjean dying waiting for death to great him. He has lost Cosette so his heart is broken, but that is what he will eventually die from. The spirit of Fantine visits him thanking him for raising Cosette. Before he dies, Cosette and Marius arrive and Marius tells Cosette it was her adopted father that rescued him. Cosette eventually learns that her father is dying and she is quite broken. All Cosette and Marius is each other, but at least there is a sense of hope. Depending on which version, in the movie, the bishop and Fantine sing the last couple of lines with Valjean, but in the stage show, it is Fantine and Eponine.

Right after the lines “to love another person is the see the face of God”, the song goes straight into a “Do You the People Sing Reprise”. This finale may be quite heartbreaking, but this reprise fills you up with hope. This is literally the most perfect way to end a musical. One of the shows biggest spiritual themes is hope.

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So there we have, a review of Les Mis songs. While some aspects of the plot may be lost, these are just the main songs. As you can see, there are so many emotions to juggle. Sometimes you have joy found at a very heartbreaking moment. Or the opposite happens where you are happy for most of the song and then you have to add heartbreak to the mix. You can first feel heartbreak for the first chunk of a certain number and than feel hope. So Les Mis is a gigantic emotional roller coaster. It is very hard for me to describe just how much I love this soundtrack. This soundtrack is a big reason why it has lasted in London for more than 30 years and why the show still tours and why there are still school productions.

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2 thoughts on “Reviewing the Songs of Les Mis

  1. Whew! There was a lot to talk about with these songs! The songs in Les Miz are packed full with emotion and story and I think that’s what makes them so great! The lyrics are beautiful, the melodies are stunning, and the emotions that the two carry together are awe-inspiring.

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    • It is amazing what the nature of these songs are. Some of them have a lot going on like Look Down and At the End of the Day. Some have emotions you have to juggle like A Heart Full of Love since towards the end you are feeling happy on one side but feeling heartbroken on the other. Joy in death scenes can only seem to be recognized if you understand the characters. Les Mis is this gigantic roller coaster due to the nature of these songs.

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