When I was 14, my parents, grandmother, neighbours, their kids (which are about my age), and some old friends of ours met in Montreal for lunch prior to going to see Les Miserables at L'Theatre St. Denis. At the time I wasn't too enthusiastic about going.
As I was reading the playbill prior to the show that started changing, I was floored to find out the entire cast was bi-lingual performing the show on some nights in French and on other nights in English. We happened to be catching an afternoon matinee of the show in English.
I remember being moved to tears by Fantine in I Dreamed a Dream and by Eponine with On My Own and laughing at songs like Lovely Ladies and Master of the House, but I think what floored me the most was the Confrontation when Jean Valjean and Javert were arguing, singing 2 completely different songs simultaneously while staring each other down. I was amazed at the level of concentration that must have taken.
At any rate, after that I was hooked. Since then I've seen Miss Saigon (which I also thoroughly enjoyed) and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and picked up the following musicals on CD:
Big River (Original Broadway Cast recording)
Phantom of the Opera (Original London Cast Recording)
Das Phantom der Oper (Original Frankfurt Cast Recording)
Les Miserables (Complete Symphonic Recording)
Les Miserables (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Les Miserables (Original Dutch Cast Recording)
Miss Saigon (Original London Cast Recording)
Miss Saigon (Original Dutch Cast Recording)
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Whistle Down the Wind (Original London Cast Recording)
I know it may seem odd that I've picked up some of the foreign language versions, but once you know the stories in English, it doesn't matter what language the songs are being sung in. But the focus when listening to the foreign langauge versions is on the vocal performance and not so much on the story. For example, Past the Point of No Return is my favorite song on Das Phantom der Oper because it sounds so much more powerful in German than in English, Alexander Goebbels sings it like a force to be reckoned with, whereas Michael Crawford's delivery (at least of that particular song) is a bit wet noodle, if you ask me.
As I've never seen Phantom of the Opera live, Toni has said she wants us to go the next time it passes through Chicago, and Toni's never seen Les Miserables and I'd love to take her to see that next time it comes to Chicago. My parents have seen both and have said while Phantom of the Opera is well worth seeing and has fantastic special effects for a broadway show, Les Miserables has a better story and packs more of an emotional punch.