David Ehrenstein traces the many adaptations of Les Misérables, from Victor Hugo’s epic novel to the musical to the new film:
In the show, “I Dreamed A Dream” belongs to Fantine, a fired factory seamstress forced into prostitution as a last resort. Her final song is a remembrance of her youth, when her dreams for a beautiful life seemed achievable. Fantine’s “What a Life I Could Have Known,” and lyrics like it were obviously applicable to Boyle, a middle-aged woman with learning disabilities who, for most of her life, took care of an ailing mother. Her unselfishness and amazing turn in fortune (she is now a recording artist with three best-selling albums) fit the novel that preceded the musical.
For Fantine, though, things didn’t work out quite so well, as any fan of the musical — with music, lyrics, and libretto by Claude-Michel Schoenberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, and Herbert Kretzmer, respectively — can tell you. The musical in turn owes its success to Victor Hugo’s 150-year-old epic of poverty and its consequences. Les Misérables has not ceased to stir emotions all along that formidable span of time, most recently in Tom Hooper’s monumental new film adaptation — one of more than 20 cinematic renderings of Les Misérables to date.