By Michael J. ARVIZU
Over the past 150 years, Victor Hugo’s 1862 masterpiece novel “Les Misérables” has been adapted for the stage, the screen, television and even comic books.
And now, for possibly the first time, the novel has been adapted for the pulpit.
First Baptist Church of La Crescenta Pastor Robert Flanders has seen “Les Misérables” on stages from New York to Los Angeles. It took him an entire summer to read the almost 1,000 page novel.
He will use the novel as the basis for his six-week Sunday sermon series titled “The Gospel According to Les Misérables,” which began Sunday.
Flanders’ inspiration to bring the novel to his church stems from the most recent Hollywood adaptation of Hugo’s play. Released on Tuesday, 2012’s “Les Misérables” stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway.
Set in the French town of Digne, “Les Misérables” tells the story of the trials and tribulations faced by one Jean Valjean, a Frenchman struggling to re-enter society following a 19-year prison sentence.
Throughout the novel’s interweaving plots and subplots, Jean Valjean can be seen performing acts of compassion, mercy, grace, forgiveness, redemption, giving, kindness and self-sacrifice – themes that Flanders preaches about almost every Sunday.
“You look at the themes that are there and you look at the themes that Jesus taught on,” said Flanders. “Basically, what I’m doing is taking some of the subplots that the songs refer to, and then looking at some of the stories that Jesus told, and taking those stories and showing the similarities that are there between what Victor Hugo wrote and what Jesus said.”
All of the themes in the novel, Flanders said, reflect biblical and spiritual themes that hold a lot of power to them.
Each Sunday, a different song from the musical will be performed, either by a live choir member or via a brief clip from the play shown on the church’s projection screen. After each performance, Flanders will preach on what the character is trying to say and what themes can be gleaned from the song.
This is the first time Flanders has devoted an entire series of Sunday sermons to one musical, although the pastor has used musicals as the basis for individual sermons in the past. Flanders will take most of the material for the series from the musical version of the novel.
First Baptist Church of La Crescenta choir member Tracy Thompson, 19, who performed the first song in the sermon series, “I Dreamed a Dream,” sung by the character Fantine in the first act of the play, believes the series presents themes that the audience can relate to. In “I Dreamed a Dream,” Fantine sings of a crushed hope. Fantine, Thompson says, is a girl who has spent her whole life trying to get somewhere and ultimately failing.
“Even in her darkest moments she still has some hope, and it’s letting go of that hope that you see,” Thompson said. “I feel it’s one of the most realistic musicals I’ve ever seen in my life because it’s focused on human emotion and human reaction, not just the music. The music that we sing is representative of the emotion that the people feel.”
At each 10:45 a.m. service, Flanders will offer free tickets to the 2012 film for church members and their guests.
Of Jean Valjean’s ultimate fate, Flanders said, “It’s this completion of a life of self-sacrifice, of giving, of compassion and caring that ultimately results in him being taken into the presence of God because of his willingness to live a Christ-like life.”
For more information on the sermon series based on “Les Misérables,” visit www.fbclc.org, or call (818) 249-5832. First Baptist Church of La Crescenta is at 4441 La Crescenta Ave. in La Crescenta.