Lights up on a chain gang in early 19th Century France. The men do hard labor. One prisoner, referred to as 'number 24601,' appears. His name is Jean Valjean and was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's starving child. His time is finally up and he is being released but Javert, an overzealous policeman, reminds him he will always be a sinner. Because he is branded as a former prisoner, it is impossible for Valjean to find work. Starving again, he is taken in by a bishop and fed; however, he flees in the night, stealing some expensive silver. The bishop, learning his plight, tells the police that he gave Valjean the silver. The bishop has bought Valjean's soul for God, and Valjean vows to be a good citizen ("Prologue").
Seven years later, the poor of France are starving and desperate. Inside a factory at Montreuil, a group of women are desperate to hold on to their jobs. A young woman, Fantine, will not respond to the foreman's sexual advances. The other women discover she has a daughter out of wedlock who lives with an innkeeper in the country, and worry that Fantine's trouble will become their trouble. A fight breaks out and the mayor and factory owner – Valjean in disguise – instructs the foreman to sort it out. He unfairly fires Fantine ("At The End Of The Day").
Desperate and alone, Fantine remembers her summer of love and the man who broke his promises that brought her to this point in life ("I Dreamed A Dream").
Fantine finds herself in the red-light district, surrounded by sailors and whores. She tries to sell her last possessions so that she may have money for her daughter, Cosette, to see a doctor. The Madame she sells to, however, will not give her a price. Fantine is forced to sell her hair and then finally herself. However, when the time comes, she cannot bring herself to it and gets into a fight with the gentleman. Javert appears and arrests Fantine, showing her no mercy. Valjean sees her and recognizes that her misfortune is partially his doing. He has her taken to the hospital ("The Docks").
Next, a cart crashes and Valjean inexplicably lifts so that the man trapped underneath is pulled clear. Javert recognizes Valjean's strength as being similar to a prisoner he knew many years ago, but assures Valjean that the man has been recaptured and awaits trial ("Cart Crash"). Valjean wrestles with a moral dilemma - if he lets the other man take the fall for him, he will finally be free and the factory workers dependent on him will be taken care of; however, he also will be damned and will have reneged on his promised life for God. He decides he cannot stay silent and goes to the court, announcing his identity and then rushing away to Fantine's hospital ("Who Am I?").
At the hospital, Fantine is in a delirium and Valjean promises to adopt Cosette as Fatine takes her final breath ("Fantine's Death"). Javert finds Valjean in the hospital, and again shows no mercy despite Valjean trying to explain he must rescue the child. Javert believes that any man who is a sinner will always be a sinner. The two men fight, and Valjean manages to escape.
Miles away, at an Inn, Cosette dreams of a happier life ("Castle On A Cloud"). The greedy and evil Mme. Thenardier, the innkeeper's wife, interrupts her wistful fantasy. The Thenardier's young daughter, Eponine is there as well. Mme. sends Cosette out into the dark to the well against Cosette's protests ("Little Cosette"). While the inn fills with patrons, Thenardier revels with the patrons. As they get drunker and drunker, the host enumerates the many ways he cuts corners and takes advantage of his customers ("The Innkeeper's Song"). Valjean meets young Cosette wandering in the woods and brings her back to the inn. He haggles with the Thenardiers over their darling Cosette and the couple finally settles on a price and turns the child over to Valjean ("The Bargain").
Ten years pass and we find ourselves in the teeming, squalid streets of Paris. The beggars, led by a young boy named Gavroche, continue to suffer. Everyone is on edge ("The Beggars"). In their midst comes the young revolutionary Marius and his friend Enjolras; they seek justice from the powers in France. Only one politician cares for the poor: LeMarque. He is on his deathbed. The students plan to use his death as a catalyst for revolution. Thenardier, no longer an innkeeper, leads a gang of criminals on the street corner. Eponine, now all grown up, is torn between loyalty towards her father & mother and her attraction to old friend Marius. Suddenly, Valjean and Cosette appear; Thenardier recognizes Valjean and asks for money. They scuffle and Valjean's shirt is ripped open showing his tattoo. Javert, not recognizing Valjean, tells him to be careful on the street ("The Robbery"). He turns to find that Valjean and Cosette, who had run into Marius, have disappeared. Thenardier tells Javert about the brand on the stranger's chest and Javert wonders if it could be the man he has been seeking all these years. Javert, the obsessed lawman, swears that he will never rest until Valjean is behind bars ("Stars").
Elsewhere, Marius meets Eponine to ask her to find the young girl with whom he had met earlier. Eponine then remembers her childhood with Cosette but refuses to mention anything. Out of her love for Marius, she eventually agrees to help him.
At a neighboring inn, revolutionary men talk of their plans and tease Marius about his falling in love for the first time. They prepare for their student revolution ("The ABC Café"). Barricades will rise and they will take to the streets, and all will come when called. As they cheer, Gavroche rushes in to inform them that LeMarque has passed. Enjolras, recognizing the sign to begin, leads the group in a rousing cry to action ("The People's Song").
Later, on the Rue Plumet, Cosette contemplates her past life, which she cannot seem to remember, and all of her father's secrets ("Rue Plumet"). Eponine leads Marius to the street and her home. She tells of her unrequited love for Marius who exchanges affectionate words with Cosette ("A Heart Full Of Love"). Suddenly, one of Thenardier's men come to rob the house of Valjean, but Eponine vows to protect Marius instead of helping her father. When her father refuses to be dissuaded, she screams and the robbers make for the sewers in order to escape ("The Attack On Rue Plumet"). Marius thanks Eponine for saving them and rather than betraying Eponine, Cosette tells her father it was she who screamed because of a mysterious man at the gate who ran away. Valjean now mistakenly fears the men who were lurking in the street were with Javert. He plans to flee from France with Cosette in order to escape Javert. Marius is heartbroken at the thought of losing his love, as his compatriots prepare for battle ("One Day More").
A barricade is being built in the streets of Paris. Marius sees Eponine and asks her to deliver a letter to Cosette; she agrees, though it breaks her heart. On the Rue Plumet, Eponine meets Valjean and gives him the letter ("Building the Barricade"). He realizes that Marius is in love with Cosette and quickly exits. All alone in the city streets, Eponine laments the intensity of her feelings for Marius, who does not return her affection ("On My Own").
The barricade has been completed and even though the revolutionaries will get no official help, they believe that the people will rise to throw off their yoke of tyranny. Javert climbs the barricade, tells them of the enemies' plans and is called a liar by Gavroche who knows the truth. Javert is tied up and is to be taken to a people's court, which he renounces ("Javert At The Barricade"). Eponine, fatally wounded, climbs the barricade and dies in Marius' arms, as he weeps and tells her of his deep love and admiration ("A Little Fall Of Rain"). Valjean then arrives to help and protect Marius, unbeknownst to him.
There is an attack and Valjean helps the students. Enjolras thanks him and they officially welcome him ("The First Attack"). Because of this, Enjolras gives Valjean the opportunity to take care of Javer. Valjean, however, shows mercy and cuts his bonds urging him to flee before the others find out. Javert tells Valjean even if he is freed he will continue to try to ensnare Valjean. Valjean tells the policeman he is free with no conditions and if they survive he can find him on Rue Plumet. Javert leaves, his faith shaken.
Later that night, the men drink and reflect on the situation. Valjean watches over Marius and hopes that he will survive the battle for Cosette's sake ("Night"). The second attack begins. Marius and Valjean argue as to whom will climb the barricade to pick up desperately needed ammunition from the corpses in the street. While they argue, Gavroche climbs the barricade in defiance and is shot to death ("The Second Attack").
The final battle begins, the revolutionaries refuse to give up, and all are killed ("The Final Battle"). The only survivors are Valjean and a seriously wounded Marius. More determined than ever, Valjean carries Marius into the sewers. They come across Thenardier, who is looting from the corpses. Valjean collapses with exhaustion and Thenardier steals Marius' ring from the unconscious man's finger ("Dog Eat Dog"). When he recognizes Valjean, Thenardier flees. A revived Valjean, still carrying the body of Marius, continues his journey through the sewers. As they emerge from, they meet Javert. Valjean pleads with Javert that he must save the boy's life and that in one hour he will be Javert's prisoner. Javert lets him go and wanders to a bridge in shock as he tries to reconcile Valjean's letting him go free when he could have taken his revenge. His world is totally shaken and he decides to commit suicide by throwing himself into the river ("Javert's Suicide").
Several months later. Marius, although delusional and haunted by the ghosts of his dead friends, is slowly recovering ("Café Song"). Encouraged by Cosette, he becomes stronger and stronger. The young lovers proclaim their feelings for one another and Marius acknowledges his debt to Valjean. With Cosette out of the room, Valjean reveals his plans of leaving forever but not before he tells Marius of his past crime, punishment, and breaking of parole. He insists he must leave in order to protect Cosette from his dark past ("Marius and Cosette").
Now at Marius and Cosette's wedding, the Thenadiers -- disguised as Baron and Baroness de Thenard -- arrive. Posing as nobility, they refuse to leave and for a small price, they will reveal who saved him the night the barricade fell. When a ring is revealed, Marius informs Cosette that Valjean is his savior; they must go see him. The Thenadiers stay behind and celebrate with stolen silver ("The Wedding").
We transition to Valjean, alone in his room, waiting to die. The spirit of Fantine appears to tell him that because he fulfilled his promise by raising Cosette, he will finally be with God. Marius and Cosette then enter and Marius thanks Valjean for saving his life. Valjean gives Cosette his last confession: the story of those who loved her. The ghosts of Fantine and Eponine take Valjean to his glory while Valjean reminds Cosette that love is of highest importance and they will all be free when 'tomorrow' comes ("Epilogue").