Thursday, February 7, 2013

Les Misérables, Radio Theatre style

Three CDs, nearly three hours of recording—yet it’s only the cliff notes version of Les Misérables.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to the audio recording of Victor Hugo's novel produced by Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre, available from Tyndale House Publishers here.

In this adaptation of Les Misérables, the story starts with a smoldering, resentful Jean Valjean, ex-convict, released from prison after 19 years of hard labor, caged in by the fear and prejudice of everyone he meets. His last, hopeless attempt to find shelter brings him to the Bishop of Digne. And, when the Bishop challenges Valjean to change, the ex-convict starts on a new journey, helped along his way by the Bishop's silverware and candlesticks. In this recording, the Radio Theatre cast does a fantastic job of voicing the characters—from Inspector Javert’s rigid determination to pursue the ex-convict, to innkeeper and ruffian Monsieur Thenardier’s bullying whine, to Valjean’s anger, pain, and gentleness.

 As usual, this cliff notes version has sparked my interest in reading the original. Sadly, I’ve read Les Misérables only once. I also haven't watched the musical or any of the movies, while the book has had to wait for a reread since high school, so I can’t say much about how well the recording has interpreted the story.

Over all, though, I suspect that this version of Les Misérables can’t really compare with the original. It also falls short of another Radio Theatre production that I am more familiar with—Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (also available from Tyndale here). That seems only natural, of course, since Hugo’s novel is so much more immense and complex than a three-hour adaptation can convey.

For someone who isn’t familiar with Les Misérables, this version does seem a good introduction. And, for someone who just wants an idea of the novel, listening to this recording is certainly less intimidating than reading the massive story it follows. As for the story itself, it might be time to reread Les Misérables.

[My thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for sending me a complimentary review copy in exchange for my honest opinion of this recording.]

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