Left – Euan Doidge and Emily Langridge. Cover – the cast. Photos – Matt Murphy
Arguably one of the greatest musicals of all time, Les Miserables is an ageless masterpiece that has endured and thrilled audiences for three decades. Originally based on a book written by Victor Hugo 1862, it is a historical tale about the French revolution. Set against a grim, poverty stricken backdrop, unfolds a story of love, freedom and redemption. Yet despite the incredible tale and endearing characters, it is the music that will seep into your heart and stay with you forever. Les Miserables reminds of us of the immense power of music to capture our imagination, speak to our soul and send us on an emotional journey.
Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed new production will delight newcomers and long-term fans alike. It has all the elements of a fabulous Les Miserables show, brilliant music and a talented and dedicated cast. But it is the incredible production that makes this the best version I have ever had the pleasure of viewing.
Traditionally played out under dark and mysterious lighting, sets are usually quite bland, but in this version they are huge and impressive, in fact it took 16 trucks to transport the dismantled set to Perth from Melbourne. The scene changes are slick and combined with some stunning computer animated effects the audience is swept away by the story. Imagine if you will, suddenly been transported into underground sewers and characters appearing magically through tunnels or seemingly falling into mid-air to their deaths.
In the opening number you are greeted with a gigantic sailing ship that is urged forward by the blood, sweat and tears of convicts who are mercilessly driven by their captors to row on and on. It is in this opening number that we are introduced to the hero and villain of this tale, convicted thief Jean Valjean (Simon Gleeson) who stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child and Javert (Hayden Tee) his nemesis, a police inspector who believes that a criminal can never be reformed. After serving 19 years for his petty crime, Javert releases Jean Valjean on parole giving him his ticket-of-leave but warning him to never forget his name. This marks the beginning of a life-long pursuit of Jean Valjean by Javert.
The opening numbers flow seamlessly and set up audience anticipation for the professional production that is about to unfold.
For those who have not seen Les Miserables the entire production is sung. For the uninitiated this may seems intimidating, but it is not, a bit like watching sub-titles, after a while, you don’t even notice anymore.
There are so many memorable songs in Les Miserables that it is almost impossible to choose a favourite, so settle for enjoying them all. Among the favourites you will probably recognise are “I dreamed a dream”, “Do you hear the people sing”, “One more day”, “On my own”, and “Empty chairs and empty tables.”
Fantine (Patrice Tipoki) moved me to tears with her rendition of “I dreamed a dream”, reflecting on her troubled life. Abandoned by the love of her life, she entrusts her illegitimate daughter Cossette to the duplicitous innkeepers, the Thénardiers. To support her daughter she works in a factory, but after her employers realise she is supporting an illegitimate child she is thrown on the street and forced into a life of prostitution.
From here on in the songs get no less moving and we are treated to exceptional vocal performances by Gleeson and Tee, in particular “The Confrontation” where Javert arrives to arrest Jean Valjean at Fantine’s deathbed. Building up with immense power their voices surge, mirroring their physical battle. Everyone’s favourite, “On my own,” a song about unrequited love by the long suffering Eponine (Kerrie Anne Greenland) does not fail to impress. Greenland delivers all her numbers with a great deal of gutso and believability.
Another favourite is “Master of the house,” which provides comic relief to an otherwise heavy storyline and introduces us to the wicked Monsieur and Madam Thénardiers (Trevor Ashley and Lara Mulcahy). Eponine’s parents and the couple entrusted with Fantine’s daughter Cosette, these two highly amusing characters run an inn and use the opportunity to fleece every one of their paying guests. Working well together, the Thénardiers have the audience in stitches with their funny antics. “Master of the house” was fast-paced, as it should be, and there was so much happening you would need to watch it several times to catch it all.
“A heart full of love,” shows the blossoming love of Marius (Euan Doidge) and Cosette (Emily Langridge) and sung together with Eponine, it was a wonderful rendition.
Les Miserables is a true treat for musical lovers. For those who have only seen the movie, you must see the stage show, if only to see how much better the vocal performances are! My only other advice if you’re prone to getting swept up in the emotion, pack some tissues because you’ll need them.
Cameron Mackintosh presents
Boublil and Schönberg
Venue: Crown Theatre, Perth
Dates: Now playing – until March 1, 2015
Tickets: from $55