Nov 12th, 2009
For a diehard musical theatre fan it was hard to imagine that I hadn't already seen Les Miserables, but it was true! So last week I took myself off to the Queen's Theatre to immerse myself in the musical that has dominated the West End for the past 30 years.
As the first trumpet sounded and the curtain rose I was sucked into 19th century France along with the inner turmoil of our hero Jean Valjean, played by the fantastic Killian Donnelly. We watch as Valjean progresses from lowly thief to the highly respectable mayor of a local town, always with the threat of Javert (Hayden Tee) re-capturing him and sending him back to prison.
I cannot fault the vocal performances that were given by every single actor during the first act. Choral numbers like "At The End of The Day" gave me goosebumps, with solos like the iconic "I Dreamed a Dream" sending shivers down my spine and not to forget the hilarious "Master of The House", which had the audience rip-roaring with laughter from start to finish. I was starting to fully understand why this production is so vastly popular! As the plot moves through France leaving the poor Fantine in its wake, Jean Valjean, Cosette (Charlotte Kennedy) and the other inhabitants of Paris are living with the rumour of revolution bubbling underneath them. Marius (Paul Wilkins), Enjolras (Hyoie O'Grady) and their band of students are getting ready for the for the final push for the fight of freedom. Alongside some romance and some rousing choral numbers act one is finished with the powerful "Do You Hear The People Sing" but with an underwhelming box-step.
The second act swiftly plummets into despair for our heroes as the revolution falls to pieces, Eponine (Karis Jack) and all of Marius' friends have fallen victim to the fight. Marius' only shining light is the love which he and Cosette share, and Jean Valjean carrying him through the dark sewers to safety and medical aid. It is in this second act that Les Miserables begins to show its age. Javert's soliloquy certainly needs some updating, I understand that when Les Mis first opened in 1982 the theatre industry didn't have access to the technical wizardry that it does today. However, to keep up with the new glittering and magical West End Productions, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for example, Les Mis would benefit with a staging revamp.
It may have only been the performance I watched, a Thursday evening in the middle of November, but some cast members, particularly the ensemble seemed exhausted and I'm sad to say slightly bored of this mammoth show. This lack of passion meant that some of the biggest moments in the plot lost their 'wow' factor and I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed. Coupled with the dated staging begged the question as to whether Les Miserables still has the potential to have the same impact in 2017 as it did in 1982?
Perhaps a revitalised cast and some modernisation of choreography and staging would provide a breath of fresh air into Les Miserables but until that happens I won't be rushing back to see it.
Les Miserables - 2012
Les Miserables is, as the title suggests, no trifling affair. At just under 3 hours long you will need to pack light, for we have a long way to travel tonight along the path of Jean Valjean.
I think its fair to say that the French literary elite were less than chuffed at the idea that Victor Hugo's masterpiece was going to be set to music in some gaudy, vaudeville style musical. Even worse, was that it was being written by two Frenchmen in English! Quelle horreur!
Now over 25 years later it is the longest running show in London, with a record breaking Broadway run (and returning again in Spring 2014) and a major movie, not to mention Susan Boyle's performance of 'I Dreamed A Dream' it is fair to say that the world has embraced 'Les Mis' with both arms.
And why, you may ask, are London audiences so steadfast in their loyalty to this show?
Here's my answer for what its worth. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction, after a hard week of toil, to spend three hours watching a team of top professionals giving it their all to entertain by bringing to life this epic tale. I get a double satisfaction knowing that they did the same thing last night, and will do it all again tomorrow, but for me, I knew they gave of their best. In the TV reality world where everyone gives it '110%' and generally miss by a long shot, here is an ensemble of trained and accomplished performers who deliver.
If you haven't read the book before you go, then don't. Instead, just sit back and take it as it arrives on stage and it will surprise and enchant.
In its day the stage production was nothing short of revolutionary (sic). Today it still impresses but for a teenager the reaction will be an excited 'cool' rather than a jaw dropping 'wow!'.
Some beautiful and tender moments in the midst of the proceedings. Watching Les Miserables on Broadway some twenty years ago I was sat next to a lady who started crying at the announcement that the performance was about to start. Go prepared is my advice.
Les Miserables is suitable for most audiences aged 14 and upwards. Smaller children will find it too long and will lose interest.