1815 – Under the watch of cruel wardens, a chain-gang of hopeless convicts pushes through another day of hard labor in Toulon, France (“Look Down/Prologue”). One of the prisoners, Jean Valjean, prepares to begin his parole; he has served nineteen years as “a slave of the law” for stealing a loaf of bread, and then subsequently attempting to escape from prison. The chief officer in charge, Inspector Javert, coldly calls for “Prisoner 24601” and hands Valjean his release papers, warning him to obey the law henceforth.
Free after almost two decades of bondage, Valjean sets off to rebuild his life, hopeful that he may rediscover some trace of human kindness in the world (“On Parole”). The country townspeople he encounters, however, are wary of working beside a former convict, shunning Valjean and running him out of town. Only the Bishop of Digne takes pity, welcoming the wanderer in to take shelter and eat his fill in safety. Desperate, Valjean repays this kindness by