When Les Misérables first lumbered onto the Broadway stage in 1987, my daughter had not yet been born, but its theatrical life was so robust that it was still running strong in the 1990s when she achieved sentiency. As soon as she did, she glommed onto it with the fervor only a pre-adolescent can have for things she loves. The songs were played endlessly in the house and in the car, and all manner of professional and amateur productions were attended. She would burst at unexpected moments into renditions of “Master of the House,” and “ Do You Hear the People Sing?” — the first with a perfect cockney accent imitated from the CD.

I had plowed through Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, in college — impressed by the panache with which Hugo concocted the plot in defiance of logic and common sense. I felt I understood the famous response of… More…

The end of the Reign of Terror unleashed a wave of euphoria in Paris as citizens celebrated the fact that they were still alive. Hardly had the guillotine been trundled out of sight than some 100 dance halls opened in Paris, using any space available — even abandoned monasteries and half-wrecked churches were turned into all-night clubs. Finally allowed to don their finery again, men re-emerged as powdered dandies and women wore scandalous dresses of a diaphanous white gauze that was almost entirely transparent (although they did wear flesh-colored body stockings underneath). But the most frenzied events were called the Victims’ Balls, which could only be attended by family members of guillotine victims. Some historians have suggested that they never actually occurred; most of the references to the balls are recollections published some years later. And yet the popular memory is so strong that there is probably some element of… More…