Left – Euan Doidge and Emily Langridge. Cover – the cast. Photos – Matt Murphy
From the rousing overture, there is little doubt that you are in for a musical treat with the long-awaited return of one of the world's greatest musicals – Les Miserables.
By now I would expect that most people will have experienced Victor Hugo's classic tale of a people uprising during the French Revolution, in some form, musical or not. I am surprised that there are so many who have never seen the stage spectacular. Possibly this was a reason why the Master of Musicals, Cameron Mackintosh decided to re-stage this with new design concepts (inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo).
Thankfully he has not taken much from the recent film version, except for employing a generally younger cast than in previous productions. The tempo has been upped a notch and the delivery is not always sung, sometimes uttered, with varying degrees of success. So what you see now is a slightly pacier Les Mis, but one that remains faithful to the original.
Of course what everyone who knows (and loves) the original staging will immediately notice is that there are more sets, extensive use of projections and no revolve. While the original (and infamous) revolve was useful and served a purpose, it was lampooned hilariously in the Forbidden Broadway revues. However, at a pivotal moment in the show, at the barracades, when that revolve turned and displayed the human casualties, it became one of the most dramatic and powerful visions on a theatre stage.
Unfortunately the impact in that climactic scene is considerably lessened in this production, although some stunning lighting makes up for some of this loss.
The younger cast with a mix of experience generally perform well. Patrice Tipoki (Fantine), Kerrie Anne Greenland (Eponine) and Emily Langridge (Cosette) all sing well, but the few scenes they are in don't really leave as much impact as their male counterparts. Greenland comes off best with the stronger role of Eponine and a beautiful rendition of On My Own.
Chris Durling gives a strong performance as student leader Enjolras while Euan Doige is good as Marius.
Of course a show like Les Mis has to have its lighter moments. Comedy and musical veterans Lara Mulcahy and Trevor Ashley (as the Thenardiers) effectively steal most scenes they are in, giving loud, raucous and often hilarious performances. Master of the House is an expected show-stopper.
The pivotal casting though is in the roles of Jean Valjean and Javert. The show and the story really only works around these characters. Hayden Tee has the unenviable task of following in the shadows of some great Javerts, not least of which is Australian Philip Quast, one of the finest ever. Tee's performance and singing is unwavering and powerful, and succeeds magnificently. His Stars late in Act One was beautifully delivered and thoroughly deserved the extended ovation from the opening night audience.
Simon Gleeson has for some time been one of my favourite stage performers. An accomplished actor and singer, he has consistently delivered some fine performances. The role of Valjean is not the easiest to perform – some extraordinarily high notes have to be reached. I was unsure that he would be able to achieve this. But when he sang Bring Him Home I was transfixed. Every note and every word was perfect and clear. Yet another great moment in the show.
The ensemble perform well with Rodney Dobson a standout as the Bishop in the early scenes. Laurence Connor and James Powell's staging generally works well, although the lighting design appeared dim or dark in too many scenes with actors faces often hard to read. The sound design and effects were all used for appropriate dramatic effect.
The new orchestrations though, sounded magnificent under the the direction of Geoffrey Castles. If you have seen the previous incarnations of this iconic musical, you may not like or agree with some of the changes, but for most theatre lovers, Les Miserables is still a monumental accomplishment.
Cameron Mackintosh presents
by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg | based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre Melbourne
Dates: from June 22, 2014
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au/lesmis | 1300 795 012