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JessicaW2009

Book or Musical first?

Hello all

I wonder if you can help me, I'm not familiar with the musical or book and I wanted to know what to do first. Shall I read the book or see the musical or vice versa?
Eppie-Sue

Well, it depends. I know people might go "Oh you have to read the book first", but I, for one, think the musical can be a wonderful introduction to the book. If you get the chance to see a great production of Les Mis it might even inspire you more to read the book, to learn more about the characters.
However, I would recommend reading the book first and to get an impression of the characters that is truly your own and not the interpretation you automatically get by watching the musical. You learn so much more about the background and the depth of the story, which, of course, makes the stage production appear in a totally new a different light for you.
Orestes Fasting

Personally, my advice would be to read the book first, and to arm yourself with this guide to the digressions so you'll know what you can safely skip if you want to get back to the plot. Hugo does have a tendency to go off on tangents.

But it's your choice, really. The musical is an excellent adaptation of the novel, as these things go; it condenses the plot, leaves out a bunch of things, and simplifies Hugo's ideas, but it doesn't screw around with events as some adaptations are prone to doing. It does somewhat distort the relative importance of the characters and some aspects of their relationships, and IMO it doesn't do justice to the book's message and often leaves audiences with a misguided impression of what all these events mean.

On the other hand, the book is very long and the plot kind of meanders all over the place, so it could be useful to be familiar with the plot through the musical.

The other thing to bear in mind is that Hugo wasn't just writing a novel; he was writing a huge, epic treatise on society, history, religion, politics, and anything else he cared to expound upon. So while his digressions often have very little to do with the plot, they're often relevant as commentary. The musical boils it all down to just the plot--which was artistically the right choice, as it would've been difficult to adapt all the various aspects of the book for the stage. But just bear in mind, whatever you choose, that the musical is one facet of a multifaceted work.
kozafluitmusique

It's your choice - but I still need to read the book. But, if you go see the musical before you listen to any recording/not really knowing the story, you will get confused easily.
Ricey

Its up to you - You can read the 1000 and something page book (or an abridged version) first or you can go and see the musical but it is probably a good idea to get an idea of the story first or you will get confused. If you do read the book first then you will imagine the characters as they were originaly described because if you go and see the musical first then you would see the characters as who protrayed them.
This is probably really confusing and i've probably made a load of spelling but i hope it helps. (hopefully)
Eppie-Sue

Ricey wrote:
Its up to you - You can read the 1000 and something page book (or an abridged version) first

Oooh, don't read an abridged version. Just don't.
Orestes Fasting

Eppie-Sue wrote:
Ricey wrote:
Its up to you - You can read the 1000 and something page book (or an abridged version) first

Oooh, don't read an abridged version. Just don't.


Seconded. Get an unabridged version and use the guide to the digressions I linked to above. That way you can decide "this part is boring, I don't like politics/religion/random digressions about slang and I'm going back to the plot" instead of having somebody do it for you and slice out everything relating to what could've been your favorite character.
lesmisloony

Book, I'd say. I saw the musical first, and I've always wished I could have let the Book surprise me with some of the plot twists rather than knowing what to expect the whole time.

Plus, the musical can really easily distort your impression of certain characters (most notably for me, Javert and Éponine) so if I could do it all again I'd much rather have started with the Book just for the sake of accuracy.
Ulkis

Heh, Loony, your reasons are exactly why I would advise to see/listen to the musical first:

Quote:
Book, I'd say. I saw the musical first, and I've always wished I could have let the Book surprise me with some of the plot twists rather than knowing what to expect the whole time.


Not so much that it spoils the whole book for you. Yeah, for the most part, you know a lot of the major plot points, but there's still a ton of surprises.

Quote:
Plus, the musical can really easily distort your impression of certain characters (most notably for me, Javert and Éponine) so if I could do it all again I'd much rather have started with the Book just for the sake of accuracy.


I think if I read the book first I would have hated the musical. Well, not HATED it, but it would be harder to get used to it. Especially Eponine. Imho, it's easier to adjust to book Eponine after you've seen musical Eponine than vice-versa.

So, I vote to listen to the musical first. Smile
eponine5

Orestes Fasting wrote:

But it's your choice, really. The musical is an excellent adaptation of the novel, as these things go; it condenses the plot, leaves out a bunch of things, and simplifies Hugo's ideas, but it doesn't screw around with events as some adaptations are prone to doing. It does somewhat distort the relative importance of the characters and some aspects of their relationships, and IMO it doesn't do justice to the book's message and often leaves audiences with a misguided impression of what all these events mean.


I'd love to hear what you have to say about the different messages and meanings of the book and the musical. Mostly when the two are compared all that is mentioned is the plot and characters. Personally I found that when I looked more closely at the book, the musical also became more accurate in some ways. I think that the musical has the character of Valjean and all that comes with him almost exactly according to the book, but at the same time it sacrifices lots of what the book says about society etc

In regards to the question, you'll get different things out of both the musical and the book, depending on which you do first, obviously. It's definitely easier to watch the musical first, I think. That's how I did it, although I wasn't looking for a way into the book at all. But I did find that the musical guided my reading of the book the first time I read it, at least in terms of the novel's direction. That was good because it probably allowed me to finish the book far quicker than otherwise because I had more focus, but at the same time I probably missed out on a lot because my view of the story was distorted by the musical. In the end I don't regret seeing the musical first, although I do wonder how different my experience of both would have been. But then again you can always re-read/rewatch both and get different stuff out of both of them, so in the long run there probably isn't so much difference.
Oh yeah, and do not read it unabridged!
Hans

Re: Book or Musical first?

JessicaW2009 wrote:
Hello all

I wonder if you can help me, I'm not familiar with the musical or book and I wanted to know what to do first. Shall I read the book or see the musical or vice versa?


I definately think one should listen to the musical first. The book is rather long and winding, and I think it's easy to lose motivation for reading it, and lose track of the events.

Being familiar with the simplified musical makes it easier to follow the book.

I also think that one may become disappointed if one finds that a part of the book one has already grown to love is missing in the musical. It's funner discovering new parts in the book that flesh out the musical, if you are already familiar with that.
Ricey

Eppie-Sue wrote:
Ricey wrote:
Its up to you - You can read the 1000 and something page book (or an abridged version) first

Oooh, don't read an abridged version. Just don't.


Ok, mabye saying you could read a abridged version was bad but it was only a sudgestion. But as i said, its really up to you. I saw the musical first and am now reading the book (unabridged version). There are alot of things are different in the book compared to the musical, so to me when i was reading the book it was still surprising to me when certain things happened.

In a way, seeing the musical first is like seeing a film before reading the book its based on. It just depends on what you feel like doing. If you understand what im saying.
JessicaW2009

thank you for your replies, they have been really helpful. I can understand both sides to the argument.

I think I am going to read a little about it first to really enjoy the musical then read the book. Going by the comments I feel I would be a little disappointed having read the book and expecting to see something in the musical and it wasn't there. I will keep you posted
Paula74

kozafluitmusique wrote:
But, if you go see the musical before you listen to any recording/not really knowing the story, you will get confused easily.


Not necessarily.

I first saw the musical when I was about fourteen and I could not have been more unfamiliar with the story. I hadn't heard any cast recording, hadn't read the book. I hadn't read so much as a synopsis of the musical.

All I'd heard was Michael Crawford's recording of "Bring Him Home." And, while I liked the song, I hadn't the faintest clue was it was actually about.

Aside from that, my only previous experience with the story came from the briefest passing reference I'd come across while reading "Gone With The Wind."

That was it.

But when I saw the musical, I didn't find it confusing at all. Sure, there were certain details that I understood better after reading the book and certain aspects that, over the years, I understood better as I got older. But the story didn't confuse me at all.

I tend to be a person who, given the option, likes to read the book before I see any show (but I've also discovered books I love because I saw the movie or show first). But I know people of various ages who have either read the book after seeing the musical or have seen the musical many times, but not yet read the book.

I'll second the recommendation NOT to read an abridged version. After seeing the musical, I rushed out and bought the novel...not realizing I was buying an abridged version. Reading that, I did become very confused!
Ulkis

Quote:
But when I saw the musical, I didn't find it confusing at all. Sure, there were certain details that I understood better after reading the book and certain aspects that, over the years, I understood better as I got older. But the story didn't confuse me at all.


I agree. Well, at least, seeing the musical. Listening to it without a synopsis might be confusing. If anything, Phantom should come with a damn synopsis in the playbill.
lesmisloony

I was ten when I first saw the musical, and my mom and I couldn't wait to get back home and read the libretto in bed to decipher whatever went on.

I vividly remember the minute the lights came up during intermission she grabbed that program and was like, "Okay, where's the synopsis...?" and we were sitting there hunched over the thing, pronouncing it "Gene Val-Gene" and reminiscing about how cute that little Cinderella girl was.

And every time I see the show I like to find groups doing the same thing during intermission. There's always at least one.

Not saying the others haven't made valid points about whether to see the musical first or whatever. Just saying one's ability to understand the show relies heavily on... one's ability to hear lyrics, I guess. When I was ten mine wasn't so good.
Mademoiselle Lanoire

Listen to the musical first. It's a decent summary of the book. But do read the liner notes.

I'm half tempted to discuss the movies, but then there's the question of which to recommend... and, in the end, the musical, although it does change some small details, is probably the best for getting a general idea of things.
Ulkis

Quote:
Not saying the others haven't made valid points about whether to see the musical first or whatever. Just saying one's ability to understand the show relies heavily on... one's ability to hear lyrics, I guess. When I was ten mine wasn't so good.


Oh yeah, it's the same with every musical. I think it would best to read something to go along with it. But out of the big musicals, I think it's harder going in cold to Rent or Phantom than it is to Les Mis. Les Mis at least has a coherent storyline through both acts. Rent and Phantom fall apart in the second. (Like, if I hadn't read the synopsis, I would have NO idea that Christine went to her father's grave to try to break herself free of the Phantom. Like, would anyone be all, "ah yes, she's trying to break herself free of the control the Phantom has over her mind" during that scene?)

Quote:
I'm half tempted to discuss the movies, but then there's the question of which to recommend... and, in the end, the musical, although it does change some small details, is probably the best for getting a general idea of things.


Oh no! You gave me an opportunity to recommend the 1934 film. I love that film like people love Thaxton or barricade boys or On My Own. No, for real though, that's a bit daunting. If I was introducing the casual English speaking viewer to a Les Mis film it would be the 1978 mini-series with Anthony Perkins. It's the only one that doesn't massacre the story.
Mademoiselle Lanoire

I had my local library order the 1934 movie, and I'll be getting around to watching it in a day or two. Probably not today, though.
Orestes Fasting

lesmisloony wrote:
Just saying one's ability to understand the show relies heavily on... one's ability to hear lyrics, I guess. When I was ten mine wasn't so good.


And the actors involved. I mean, I love John Owen-Jones and he's an amazing Valjean, but the man does not enunciate. If you don't already know the lyrics you'll understand maybe every tenth word that comes out of his mouth.

Seconding the recommendation of the 1934 movie, BTW. The guy they have playing Gillenormand is worth the price of admission all by himself.
kozafluitmusique

Well, when I saw it, I was so confused in the beginning but then when they all grew up, it made more sense. Maybe it was because the mics were unclear to my ears, I couldn't quite grasp what was going on ... and my parents were like "...maybe we should have explained this to you." And they did, at a break. I was also 14 and a newb at musicals, really ... I mean, I knew about them, saw them, but wasn't nearly as obsessed as I am now.
Eppie-Sue

JessicaW2009 wrote:
I think I am going to read a little about it first to really enjoy the musical then read the book. Going by the comments I feel I would be a little disappointed having read the book and expecting to see something in the musical and it wasn't there. I will keep you posted

That sounds like a good idea - maybe you've mentioned it before, but which production are you going to see? Just out of interest...

Oh, and I saw the musical when I was nine, but I believe my mother told me the plot beforehand (although it was a bit brick-heavy in her summary, there were heaps about the Bishop...) and I had listened to the OBC (not that it helped about the lyrics, seeing as I didn't know English at that point, but I was familiar with the melodies) - and I think I knew the German Duisburg recording by heart (I remember my dad informing me that singing along was frowned upon in the auditorium). But I guess that helped regarding my understanding of the plot a lot.
bigR

mmm... I think I'm going to contradict everybody but I'll say:

-1st musical and 2nd the book and more important DON'T READ ANY SYNOPSIS AND DON'T LISTEN TO ANY CD before you see the musical.

It is really up to you but I think you should see the musical before you read the book because as Orested pointed out, the musical is a very good adaptation and a very enjoyable piece of art on its own, BUT if you've read the book first, you won't be able to stop thinking all the time "oh, this wasn't exactly like this", "but this is not true, éponine was not marius's best friend", etc

If you see the musical 1st you will be able to enjoy a wonderful show at its best and afterwards when you read the book you'll enjoy a second discovery, with the many plot twits, characters and Hugo's opinions that you don't get in the musical.

So, musical 1st and book 2nd will make 2 discoveries and 2 wonderful experiences, while book 1st may spoil your experience at the theatre.

Also, I'll advise you not to read any synopsis before going to the theatre and not listening to any cd. Yes, you might miss a word here and there, and maybe you'll be a little bit confused on some minor point of the plot, but you'll catch 90% of what's happening, and even if you don't have any knowledge of french history the basic lines of the plot are universal and easily understandable by anyone.

I for once went to see the show with a very basic knowledge of the story (I knew about cosette, had studied enjolras's speech at the barricade, etc...) but I had a very summary idea of what really happened and the surprise and the expectation of not knowing what was going to happen was certainly a plus in my experience.
Mademoiselle Lanoire

bigR wrote:
mmm... I think I'm going to contradict everybody but I'll say:

-1st musical and 2nd the book and more important DON'T READ ANY SYNOPSIS AND DON'T LISTEN TO ANY CD before you see the musical.


My experiences may be skewed because the first time I saw the musical it was an LMSE, but I came away rather confused and didn't get much of anything until I first read the book, about four years ago (and a few weeks before I first saw a professional production.)
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