Prologue, 1815, Digne
After 19 years on the chain gang Jean Valjean is released on parole. By law he has to take the yellow ticket-of-leave that shows everybody: he is a convict. Although he has paid for his crime (stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's starving family) he is an outcast. The Bishop of Dignes is the only one who treats Jean Valjean kindly. As Valjean is totally embittered he steals some silver from the Bishop and escapes, but is soon caught. The Bishop lies to the police and tells them that he has given Valjean the silver and that Valjean has forgotten the two promised candlesticks. Encouraged through the Bishop, Jean Valjean decides to start a new life and he destroys the ticket-of-leave (What have I done).
Valjean has broken his parole and changed his name to Monsieur Madeleine. He has become a wealthy factory owner and the Mayor of the town. One of his factory workers is the young woman Fantine. Fantine has an illegitimate daughter, who lives with an innkeeper's family. When the other women and the foreman discover this she is sent away (At the end of the day).
Desperate to earn money for the medicines for her daughter, Fantine first sells her hair. Later she joins the whores and sells herself (Lovely Ladies). Finally she starts off a fight with a customer and is therefore about to be prisoned in jail by Javert (Fantine's arrest), when the Mayor appears and demands to take Fantine to hospital.
Shortly afterwards a man gets pinned down by a cart. As no one dares to rescue the man, Madeleine lifts the cart alone and saves the man from death. Through this action Javert is remind of former convict 24601, better known to us as Jean Valjean. Soon he leaves his thoughts as he tells Madeleine that Valjean is now recaptured and will be taken to court.
Left alone Valjean does not know what to do. He cannot go on with his life, knowing an innocent person is in jail, instead of him (Who am I?). Therefore he claims in front of the court to be 24601, Jean Valjean. He can flee from court. On her deathbed he promises to Fantine that he will find her daughter Cosette and care for her (Come to me). When Fantine is dead, Javert appears and tries to arrest Valjean, but he fails and Valjean flees once more (The Confrontation).
Valjean finds Cosette, who lived for several years with the Thénardiers, an innkeeper couple who treated her badly. He buys Cosette off and together they leave for Paris to start a new life there (The Bargain).
There is a big unrest in the city as General Lamarque, who is the only man in the government showing a sympathy for the poor, is about to demise (Look down).
One day suddenly Valjean and Cosette are set up by the Thénardier's gang (The Robbery). They finally get rescued by Javert who does not recognize Valjean at first and so he and Cosette have enough time to flee (Javert's Intervention). Shortly before this incident Cosette and Marius, a young student, bump together. It's love at first sight. As Cosette left so suddenly Marius asks Eponine to find the unknown girl for him. Eponine is herself the daughter of Thénardier and she also fell in love with Marius, who does not know about this passion.
During a meeting of a group of idealistic students that include Marius and Enjolras, the news of Lamarque's death is broken (The ABC Café). Eponine has in the meantime found Cosette and brings Marius and Cosette together. While both enjoy one another's company (A Heart full of Love), Thénardier tries to rob Valjean (The Attack on Rue Plumet), which Eponine can prevent through a loud scream. Valjean is convinced it was Javert who once more tried to arrest him and so he decides to take Cosette away and leave the country.
On the eve of the revolution the main characters think about their future. The students celebrate the coming fight. Eponine mourns the loss of Marius. Marius and Cosette are desperate to lose one another. Valjean looks forward to the security of the exile (One Day More).
The students start to build up their barricade. Eponine joins them, but is soon sent away by Marius to deliver a farewell letter to Cosette. Besides it is a try to save Eponine's life through sending her away. At the Rue Plumet, Eponine meets Valjean and gives the letter to him instead of Cosette. After Eponine leaves, Valjean opens the letter and reads it.
Meanwhile Javert joins the students and pretends he is one of them and he wants to fight with them, but Little Gavroche exposes him as a spy (Javert's arrival). In order to punish him later they tie Javert up. Eponine decides to rejoin Marius at the barricades. On her way back she is shot. Fatally wounded she dies in Marius' arms, confessing her love for him (A little Fall of Rain).
Shortly before the first attack, Jean Valjean joins the students in order to search for Marius. During the attack he supports the students and as a kind of reward he is allowed to kill Javert. While everyone turns his back to the both, Valjean frees Javert and lets him go, pretending to the others he has shot Javert.
Before the battle starts, Valjean kneels down and prays to God to save Marius (Bring him home). When the fight begins Marius gets wounded and all of his friends die (The Final Battle). Valjean and Marius are the only surviving people on the barricades. Valjean carries the seriously wounded and unconscious Marius into the sewers, where he finally collapses for a moment (The Sewers). During this period Thénardier appears and steels a ring from Marius' finger. After awakening Valjean commences his way through the sewers and finally meets Javert. He pleads to be allowed to take Marius to a hospital and Javert finally lets him go.
Javerts unbending principles of justice have been shattered by Valjean's own mercy. He kills himself by throwing himself into the River Seine (Javert's Suicide).
When Marius has recoverd from his severe injuries in Cosette's care, he is totally depressed, as all his friends got killed on the barricades (Empty Chairs at Empty Tables). Furthermore he does not know who rescued him that night from the barricades (Every Day). While Marius has recovered a great deal Valjean confesses the truth about his past to Marius (Valjean's Confession). He insists on leaving Cosette forever.
Finally Cosette and Marius get married (The Wedding Chorale). At their wedding Thénardier tries to blackmail Marius. He says that Valjean is a murderer and to proof it he shows Marius the ring he has stolen from the corpse during the night of the attack. Marius recognizes his own ring and that Jean Valjean was his saviour that night (Beggars at the Feast).
Marius brings Cosette to her father who is dying. Now she learns for the first time about her history. As Jean Valjean dies he joins the spirits of Fantine, Eponine and all the others who died on the barricades (Epilogue/Finale).