Seattle's Child

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"Les Miserables" with kids

Should you see ‘Les Miserables’ with kids? Well, that depends …

This beloved musical is full of violence and mature themes and certainly isn't for everyone

Editor’s note: This article about seeing “Les Miserables” with kids was originally published in June 2018 when a national touring production of “Les Miserables” came to Seattle. The beloved musical is here again this spring, and parents might have the same questions. There is violence, injustice, grief and coarse language. There’s also a spirit of fighting for change, and ultimately an uplifting message.

Commonsense Media puts the film version of “Les Miserables” at 14+. All I could really find about the stage version is that children under 4 will not be admitted.

The details: “Les Miserables” is on stage at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre from May 24-June 17.

And by the way, I will be attending my now high-schooler, who has become quite a musical theater aficionado.

 

“Les Miserables” with kids: Original article, June 2018:

Should you take your kid to “Les Miserables”? I did it, and I’m still not sure.

I attended opening night on Thursday with my daughter, Elizabeth, who is 10 and a fourth-grader.

I had seen a touring version of the show maybe 20 years ago and was thrilled to see it again. I found it stunning, rousing, emotional. I cried at least twice and often caught myself singing along.

It’s tougher to characterize Elizabeth’s reaction. Maybe the word is “overwhelmed.” She has developed a fondness for rather dark literature, and also is a veteran of the stage, having performed in several youth theater productions. Still, she characterized “Les Mis” overall as “depressing.” I called her attention to one particular lyric near the end: “To love another person is to see the face of God,” but I think the life-affirming themes mostly were lost on her.

Materials provided to the media note the themes of love, courage and redemption but also “complex and difficult subject matter including social revolution, poverty and prostitution.” That section concludes: “Parents should make their own decision based on the maturity of their child. The production is recommended for ages 10 and up.”

My 10-year-old is pretty mature, but I think she’ll get more out of this show two or three years from now. The violence and death upset her; the vulgarity she seemed to find funny.

She said she was glad she saw the show, and wasn’t unhappy that I took her. She said she thought it was OK for some kids her age, and to those kids, she would say: Some of it was harsh (she also used the word “downer.”) It’s going to be loud. (We were warned that there would be gunshots, and the anticipation of this made her quite jittery for a while.)

[Update for 2022: Here is the full content advisory: Fog and haze are used throughout the performance. Live flame is used onstage during the show (torches, candles). There are 3 live gunshots that occur in the Act II (between 15 minutes and 20 minutes in). All 3 gunshots occur on the Stage Right side (House Left). There are strobes and flashes, and the Barricade battles in Act II utilize moving lights and sound effects (gun shots/cannon blasts).]

Our takeaways:

Favorite song, without a doubt: Young Cosette’s “Castle on a Cloud.”

Favorite moment: The “comedy relief” when the Innkeeper’s Wife was “chopping the bread and yelling bad words.”

Mom’s conclusions: Feeling a little mixed about exposing her to so much sadness, yet at the same time happy to introduce her to a masterpiece full of amazing songs. I was struck by how quickly they all came back to me, after all these years. On the way to the bus stop this morning, we were singing “Castle on a Cloud” (after I’d been humming “Master of the House” all morning), which made me feel good about her takeaway from the show. Her 14-year-old cousin might have been a better fit for the show, but I don’t think Elizabeth is traumatized — and I love that we had a nice mother-daughter night out.

“Les Miserables” with kids: pro tips

Arrive on time. Actually, arrive early. Admire the theater, find your seats, peek into the orchestra pit. Latecomers are held outside and ushered in, to the glares of the crowd, about 15 minutes into the show. Don’t be those people.

Read the plot synopsis in the program. Even adults will benefit from this, as there are some twists that can be confusing. For instance, the plot centers around revolution in France, but it’s not about the French Revolution.

I would never suggest withholding liquids, but … be strategic. Restroom lines are notoriously long at intermission. A woman sitting near us complained that the “five-minute warning” sounded when she was nowhere near the front of the line.

 

More in Seattle’s Child:

Movie review: The new “Peter Pan & Wendy”

 

Originally published June 2018

About the Author

Julie Hanson