Les Misérables returns to the Adelaide stage, co-directed by Joshua Penley and Shane Davidson. Featuring a seminal score by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, the musical follows an entourage of characters in their pursuit of redemption, revolution and love.
The large ensemble numbers really showcased the forty-eight member cast; At the End of the Day and One Day More were particularly thrilling. Each performer embraced the choreography and Schönberg’s grandiose score with enthusiasm.
Unfortunately the standard of performances given by the lead cast were varied. Scott Green must be commended for maintaining stamina in the challenging role of Jean Valjean; however, the audience was left wanting more. Green clearly wasn’t capable of the required vocal range and didn’t provide the necessary realism or vivacity.
Rohan Powell gave a skin-tingling performance as Javert. His intensity and powerful stage presence could almost excuse the moments where he was noticeably out of time with the orchestra. Catherine Hancock should be applauded for beautiful vocals and superbly sorrowful portrayal of Eponine.
Also of note was Dianne K Lang as Fantine, Lindsay Dunn and April Stuart as the hilarious Thénardiers, Joshua Penley’s Marius, Kat Sachse as Cosette and Beau Sandford’s spectacularly commanding Enjolras.
Jonathan Bligh’s sixteen piece orchestra was sturdy. It did lack power in exposed sections such as the Prologue, and was often drowned out in the large ensemble numbers onstage. Similarly, critical instrumental lines were lost as the orchestra seemed uncertain with some parts of the score. There were also occasions where performers and the orchestra were conspicuously out of time, perhaps a result of its awkward position at the back of the stage.
The sound was a calamity; the three hour production wrought with extraneous buzzing, crackling and thuds. Sound cues were clearly disregarded with audible backstage murmuring and onstage performers that could not be heard at all. Balance and blend was also a major issue, particularly in ensemble numbers.
The minimalist concert feel of the performance, as utilised in the 10th and 25th anniversary performances, was not effective. Without sets and props, the stage remained barren and those in the audience who were not familiar with the plot were left bamboozled. The two projector screens on either side of the stage did assist with narrative points and settings, but failed to combat the emptiness of the stage.
Lighting could have been exploited magnificently, but was not. The light design plays such an integral role but was not detailed or sympathetic to the narrative structure and emotional nuances of the show. Performers remained in shadow during some numbers, audience members were blinded by the flood light during the battles at the barricade, and the overall design was simply bland and unexciting.
Staging Les Misérables is obviously a huge undertaking. While there were some absolutely wonderful elements, at the end of the day it failed to impress.
Shane Davidson Presents
Co-directed by Joshua Penley and Shane Davidson
Dates: 26 – 30 Sep 2012
Venue: St Peter's Girls Arts Centre