Les Miserables | Cameron MackintoshPhotos – Matt Murphy

Ushered to our seats in the Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Friday 13th, the atmosphere was dark and brooding with a background painting by Victor Hugo already showing promise of the set design that would surely unfold. We settled into our seats and breathed in the atmosphere. I heard an audience member saying to their companion, “....you haven’t seen this before? You’ll love it, I’ve seen it many times.” 

I must confess, for all my years, I had never witnessed Les Miserables – stage or screen! I came to this opening night as a ‘freshling’. Considering Les Miserables is the longest running musical in the world (30 years so far) with over 65 million bearing witness, this is no mean feat! 

The audience goes wild at the onset, clearly knowing they are in for a wonderful ride as Jean Valjean (Simon Gleeson) bursts onto the stage with all the fight and fervor, fear and feistiness that only a prisoner, recently set ‘free’ after stealing bread to feed someone else, can muster. Released but not forgiven, knowing that, ‘they are the thieves for taking his young years’ he ventures out: ‘Now let’s see what this new world will do for me’. 

Poverty and power, pressure and perseverance and a world out there that is still unjust, he fights his way through the rest of his life and does what a man has to do to keep one step ahead of the game and of his relentless pursuer, Javert (Hayden Tee). 

Herbert Kretzmer, reworking original lyrics from French into English, realises why Les Miserables strikes a chord, to this day, with audiences: “Some of the answers, at least, must lie in the universality of Victor Hugo’s human portraits and mighty themes. There’s an Inspector Javert in police forces everywhere – incorruptible and implacable. There are Valjeans everywhere, too, but never enough of them. The inner cities of the world are awash with disappointed drifters like Fantine, lost in their unfathomable problems. The characters of Les Miserables are common to all races, recognisable everywhere in their deep humanity as well as their guile.” 

Powerful performances by everyone (cast and crew) with characters you love and love to hate, colouring the story, adding humour, ribaldry, debauchery, greed and grot, and making us gasp and groan. Take a bow Lara Mulcahy (Madame Thenardier) and Trevor Ashley (Thenardier) for making us loathe you! Patrice Tipoki (Fantine) dreaming ‘love would never die, that God would be forgiving’ and Kerrie Anne Greenland (Eponine) singing ‘the city is dead and I can live inside my head’ with such clarity and a heartfelt voice, crying, ‘I love him’ and bringing down the house with a wild round of applause, mid show. 

The battlescene, a graphic masterpiece, showing how pointless war is, back then as it is now, with awesome set changes melding scenes and screens with lighting, tunnels and bridges, and Jean Valjean lifting the fallen Marius (Euan Doidge) over his shoulder, saving his life and carrying him through the ‘sewers and underground tunnels’. Wow, how did he do that? Inspirational choreography and visuals that left the audience gobsmacked. Javert and the bridge scene, falling into the abyss of his own life, is worth the freight alone! 

Humanism is a linchpin of Les Miserables and the stellar cast, young and old, energetic and sombre, are the sum of all parts, carrying the audience along through the entire journey. The synthesis of this story, with quiet moments before the storm, provide passion, unbridled talent, stage design, lighting and ART second to none! Costumes reflect and encapsulate the grime of the times, pitching us back to Victor Hugo’s epoch, with Musical Director/Conductor, Geoffrey Castles and orchestra a heartbeat between what’s unfolding on stage and what is being absorbed by the audience. 

To quote Cameron Mackintosh: “To love another person is to see the face of God” is one of the most beautiful thoughts any play could end on and it does somehow sum up the emotional impact that you feel when you see Les Miserables. In an ever uncertain world, we need to depend on each other even more...” 

With that quote in mind, and after the second encore with capacity crowd rising from their seats in standing ovation, we walked out of the buzzing Lyric Theatre.  The Story Bridge was glowing with red, white and blue lights. I said to my partner, “wow, they have lit the bridge for Les Miserables opening night...” Reality dawned the next day and Jean Valjean’s plea of “Bring him home, bring him peace, bring him joy: you can take, you can give, let him be, let him live...” a resonant voice in a sea of sacrifice.

Congratulations to Les Miserables and the creative team involved in bringing a show of this magnitude onto a stage, showcasing the spectrum of talent needed, from the first note to the switching off of lights, to cohesively provide entertainment, history and humanism to a hungry crowd. Bravo.

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: Lyric Theatre QPAC
Dates: 10 November 2015 – 17 January 2016
Tickets: qpac.com.au | 136246

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