If you can't wait until the movie starring Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe and Anne Hathaway comes out on Boxing Day, head to The Regal Theatre in Subiaco to see the ICW Performing Arts Association's production of the timeless musical, Les Miserables. It is sure to whet your appetite and enliven your anticipation.
Although the story is sung through, this is far from an opera; acting capability is paramount and the leads in this production do it well. The principals handled their roles with sensitivity and passion that enhanced the tragically beautiful story nestled against the backdrop of the French Revolution.
This popular musical, based on the Victor Hugo novel, has been reproduced and reinvented since it opened in 1980 in Paris. However, this offering strays very little from the first English language productions that were staged throughout the UK, USA and Australia in the late 80s and early 90s. While the complex, technical staging requirements of the original production (particularly revolves and tracks) were not available at The Regal, attempts were made to simulate the original set and staging for the Rue Plumet, Javert's death at the bridge and The Barricade. Scenically, the set, lighting and music did not always flow seamlessly which I found slightly disruptive to my emotional connection with the action. However, with that said, there were some innovative and clever moments, for example the freeze in Master of the House which allowed Thenardier to soliloquise, and the overall big picture should impress.
With the rousing score by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg and stirring lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, it is easy to be drawn into the plethora of character journeys ranging from young love, obligation, family devotion, religion and crime all set against the overarching theme of poverty, oppression and the fight for liberty in 19th Century France.
There were a couple of minor distractions with regard to sound (Marius's microphone cut out at a vital moment during "One Day More") and sound balance, but they are sure to be eliminated as the season progresses. Under the musical direction and conductorship of Ian Westrip, the orchestra took on the challenging score with courage and enthusiasm.
The costumes and wigs were very effective, as was the hair and make-up. The absence of a choreographer (aside from the wedding scene, which was quite lovely) was difficult to ignore, especially in the ensemble scenes which were perhaps less dynamic than they could have been. The ensemble in Les Miserables is entrusted with a great deal of responsibility in the storytelling, filling minor roles and creating an emotional atmosphere for the audience, however this task was most competently handled by the leads.
In the role of Jean Valjean, Brendan Hanson was, ironically, more believable as an older man than when he was playing his own age. His make-up was expert and the way he aged his physique and voice was truly professional.
Maree Cole imbued the role of vulnerable and downtrodden Fantine with a sweetness, beauty and gentle joy often unseen in this role. Whilst flawlessly classical at times, she also brought a warm huskiness to her voice that conveyed the intensity of her emotional interactions with various others.
Samantha Clarke was another standout with her independent and feisty interpretation of Cosette, who could easily be portrayed as quite soft and ineffectual. She sang the role effortlessly, plucking a high C from her range and leaving it just hanging in the air, resonating warmly in the ear. Some of the most pleasurable harmonic moments were during trios between Marius (Gareth Jay), Cosette, and Valjean or Eponine (Nicole Kaminski).
David Wallace embraced the role of Enjolras with the confidence and passion required, his powerful tenor voice soaring, encouraging others to follow him into battle. Carolyn Latter and Brian Dawson adopted the roles of the Innkeepers, Thenardier with cheeky, underhanded comedy. Latter in particular was qualified to excel, this being her third time around the dance floor as the vulgar Madame T. Ian Cross took on the fiercely difficult role of Inspector Javert and didn't disappoint. Plagued by his single minded pursuit of Jean Valjean, Javert is a complex, strong and conflicted character.
The youngsters are divided into a "Red" and "Blue" cast. On opening night, we saw the "Red" company which included beautiful performances by Tory Kendrick as Little Cosette, and Seamus Harrison as Gavroche. They both had sensational vocal control and Harrison showed a charisma that will serve him well as he continues his work on the stage.
Toward the very end of the second act, the ensemble finally came into their own with a beautiful rendition of "Turning", and the Epilogue encapsulated the gut-wrenching emotion that this musical is renowned for.
This will be director John Milson's final major project and marks the culmination of an exciting, celebrated and highly accomplished career. Although Milson is widely known throughout WA as a notoriously difficult task master, his talent, experience and skill is undeniable and commands respect. The final performance on Saturday October 20th will be a tribute in his honour.
Remregal Pty Ltd on behalf of ICW Performing Arts Association
by Boublil and Schonberg
Venue: The Regal Theatre | 474 Hay Street, Subiaco, WA
Dates: October 12 – 20, 2012