More than 25 years after its stage debut, “Les Miserables” continues to captivate audiences around the globe with its timeless tale of survival, redemption and love. With its film adaptation hitting theaters Christmas Day, “Les Mis” has a chance to introduce an entirely new legion of fans to beloved characters Valjean, Javert, Fantine, Cosette, Marius and Eponine, and the music that they brought to life.
For the uninitiated, or those looking for a refresher before seeing the film, here’s a run-down of the major players in “Les Miserables,” and a small sampling of the songs that define them.
Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman)
Branded as Prisoner 24601, Valjean is released from a 19-year sentence and, determined to leave his past behind, ditches parole. He eventually becomes a successful businessman and the mayor of a small town, until his life is turned upside down again when he adopts Cosette, the daughter of one of his former workers, Fantine. He spends the rest of his days trying to hide his history from Cosette while also trying to reconcile his mistakes with himself and God. <strong>Signature song:</strong> “What Have I Done?” Faced with a shot at salvation, Valjean wonders if he’s worthy, ultimately deciding to take the plunge into the spiritual and physical unknown. “Jean Valjean is nothing now,” he sings. “Another story must begin.” <strong>Runner-up:</strong> “Bring Him Home” Valjean, realizing his daughter is in love with Marius, prays to God for Marius’ safekeeping before the students begin their fight. Some of the sweetest falsetto you’ll ever hear.
Javert (Russell Crowe)
Inspector Javert, who oversaw Valjean’s work in prison, will stop at nothing to find 24601, hunting the parole dodger for decades. Their game of cat and mouse consumes both of their lives, and Javert’s frustration mounts at every turn. <strong>Signature song:</strong> “Stars” While summing up the pious motivation behind Javert’s search for Valjean, “Stars” also hints at Javert’s dogged determination and overwhelming obsession – strengths which ultimately prove to be his greatest weaknesses. <strong>Runner up:</strong> “Soliloquy” Since the song’s other name is a bit of a spoiler, we’ll just say: The musical isn’t called “Les Miserables” for nothing. A goose bump-inducing gut-punch.
Fantine (Anne Hathaway)
A factory worker who sends her wages to the couple caring for her daughter, Cosette, Fantine is eventually fired when the foreman finds out. Destitute and desperate, Fantine sells her locket, her hair and finally her body. When she succumbs to illness, she pleads with Valjean to take care of Cosette. <strong>Signature song:</strong> “I Dreamed a Dream” “I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living,” Fantine sings in this heartbreaker, embodying the disappointment that has come to define her existence.
Young Cosette (Isabelle Allen)
Cosette, Fantine’s daughter, has been sent to live with the innkeeper Thenardier and his wife. Forced to wear rags and do the couple’s every bidding, Cosette’s life is forever changed when Valjean comes knocking. <strong>Signature song:</strong> “Castle on a Cloud” Sweet and simple, Cosette fantasizes about a magical place where childhood is happy.
Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen)
The innkeeper Thenardier and his wife care for Fantine’s daughter Cosette, but treat her more like a slave than a daughter. The family eventually goes on to lead a gang of street robbers in Paris, where Thenardier gleefully picks the pockets of students slain in the uprising. <strong>Signature song:</strong> “Master of the House” Thenardier bills himself as a luxury hotelier while outlining the increasingly-outrageous ways in which he cheats his guests. This show-stopper is the comedic highlight of the musical.
Madame Thenardier (Helena Bonham Carter)
Thenardier’s wife and the worst surrogate mother imaginable to Cosette, Madame Thenardier is quick with a comeback and eager to take her husband down a peg. When Valjean arrives to take Cosette away, she drives a hard bargain to wring money out of him. <strong>Signature song:</strong> “Master of the House” Madame asserts herself as a great foil to her blustering husband, calling him a bastard and a louse, among other pet names.
Adult Cosette (Amanda Seyfried)
Now living in Paris with Valjean, Cosette meets Marius, a young student revolutionary. It’s love at first sight, but Cosette is torn between her attraction to Marius and her devotion to her father, whose mysterious past has been a constant source of curiosity. <strong>Signature song:</strong> “In My Life” Cosette is growing up, and Valjean isn’t ready to let go.
Marius (Eddie Redmayne)
A student whose friends are preparing for the Paris Uprising against the government, Marius is distracted by Cosette, falling in love with her instantly. With the threat of separation looming over the couple’s heads, Marius decides to join his friends at the barricade. <strong>Signature song:</strong> “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” Haunting and heart-wrenching, Marius mourns his lost comrades, begging them to forgive “that I live and you are gone.”
Eponine (Samantha Barks)
The daughter of the Thenardiers, Eponine is friends with Marius, with whom she’s hopelessly in love. Despite those feelings, she helps unite Marius and Cosette, and even thwarts her father’s band of robbers from breaking into Cosette and Valjean’s home. <strong>Signature song:</strong> “On My Own” The perfect representation of unrequited love, with just the slightest hint of hope thrown in. Eponine’s not fooling anyone, least of all herself -- but it’s nice to pretend. <strong>Runner-up:</strong> “A Little Fall of Rain” Alternative title: “Too Little, Too Late, Marius.” Simultaneously sad and gorgeous.
Enjolras (Aaron Tveit)
The leader of a group of student revolutionaries fighting for the rights of the poor, Enjolras is idealistic and enthusiastic about the upcoming uprising. He rallies his fellow students, including head-in-the-clouds Marius. <strong>Signature song:</strong> “Red and Black” Summing up both his selflessness and the point of the fight, Enjolras explains to Marius, “We strive towards a larger goal. Our little lives don’t count at all.”
Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone)
A street urchin who lives in the slums of Paris, young Gavroche is tougher than he looks. Despite his age and size, he joins up with the student revolutionaries. <strong>Signature song:</strong> “Little People” Gavroche figures out the identity of Javert, who tries to infiltrate the students’ camp as a mole.