16
Nov
15

Les Miserables

 

Les Miserables

Cameron Mackintosh

QPAC Lyric Theatre

November 13 2015 – January 17 2016

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Les Miserables – Cameron Mackintosh’s Acclaimed New Production – is outstanding, boasting a spectacular new design enhanced greatly by its cinematic elements, and a new cast that makes each character their own, retelling Victor Hugo’s epic story for a brand new generation of theatregoers.

 

The hype surrounding this production also showcases the savvy use of social media following the release of the movie musical to inspire a new audience to “Join the revolution” with its handles and hashtags cleverly included with tickets and in performers’ bios in the program. This new Les Mis is one example of the talent – both onstage and off – living up to the hype created by a sensational social media campaign.

 

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The legendary musical by Boublil and Schonberg now comes with a re-orchestrated score (Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe & Stephen Brooker) conducted at lightning speed by Geoffrey Castles. I have to say, I miss the siren’s wail beneath Javert’s, “Could it be he’s some old jailbird that the tide now washes in?”, but that’s just nostalgia. It’s a rich, full sound, beautifully realised. The pace of it doesn’t help us to hear all of the lyrics though, which are sung so quickly at times as to be indiscernible, even for those who have grown up knowing the show by heart.

 

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Nevertheless, there are some breathtaking moments in between the breakneck efforts to move through the three-hour tale before new audiences start to fidget. They don’t, at least not on opening night, and I wish we could continue to trust that the material will hold the audiences’ attention. I’m not against updating anything (I only mildly miss the revolve, such is the spectacular effect of the newly designed gliding, joining and separating imposing set pieces), but it does seem that there’s a fear of inattentiveness behind this move. Particularly in Act 1 we barely get a chance to take a breath and contemplate the gravity of each situation.

 

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The stars of the show, and those able to most expertly blend the best of traditional and contemporary approaches to the acting and vocal demands of their roles are Simon Gleeson (Jean Valjean) and Hayden Tee (Javert), both in superb voice and perfectly matched in their strength and subtle gesture. The battle between real life and the law is made completely believable by these two, and a couple of extended silences between them demonstrate the quiet awe of an appreciative audience as much as the performers’ focus and command of the stage.

 

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The cast is uniformly excellent, with standout performances from Patrice Tipoki (Fantine in all her fragility and stubborn strength) and in her professional debut, Kerrie Anne Greenland (Eponine). Luke Joslin’s Grantaire adds an extra strain of compassion to proceedings with a beautifully developed big brother relationship with Gavroche (on opening night, we delight in Nicholas Cradock’s cheeky performance), and Drink With Me happens more organically than ever before, making it the ideal gentle prelude (rather than the track we tend to skip on the CD) to Gleeson’s tender, heartfelt and lightly soaring rendition of Bring Him Home, which is an absolute triumph.

 

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Appropriately attempting to steal the show are Trevor Ashley and Lara Mulcahy as the Thenadiers, included for the undercurrent of evil intention as much as for the comic relief brought by their vulgar characters and hilarious antics. Master of the House showcases not only the pair’s ability to manipulate the comedy necessary for a bit of light relief, but also the ensemble’s expert treatment of their individual roles. Billy Bouchier has a lovely moment towards the end of the scene, upon realising that a newcomer has swiped his drink. His reaction is priceless, and testament to the attention to detail evident, not just vocally but in terms of every person on stage being integral to the storytelling. Whether entertaining moments like this are due to the talent on stage or the new directors (Lawrence Connor & James Powell) is impossible to say. The updated One Day More march is a disappointment though, and should never have been allowed to happen. It’s been simplified and loses its original powerful visual effect; a reminder that newer is not always better.

 

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But Paule Constable’s haze enhanced precision lighting, Matt Kinley’s detailed set and image design (inspired by Victor Hugo’s paintings) and Mick Potter’s soundscape combine to create the cinematic atmosphere we have come to expect from the blockbuster musicals. Despite Javert’s suicide not translating quite as well as it should do (I was expecting more haze, more theatrical magic…), the technology comes together brilliantly during the preceding sewer scenes.

 

There’s no doubt that this Les Mis is the biggest and best reincarnation of a classic musical yet.

 

It might not fully satisfy the purists and returning patrons but the updated design and so much of the talent in this Les Mis is too good to miss, and new audiences will continue to lap it up. Don’t be the one to have to admit that you missed it! If you need another reason – or two – to see this production, make it the chance to catch Patrice Tipoki as Fantine before she joins the West End cast and Hayden Tee as Javert before he heads to Broadway. These are the roles that will establish Tipoki and Tee as our next international “overnight” successes.

 

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Michael Cassel Group:

 

Simon Gleeson, who won a Helpmann Award for his heartrending portrayal as Jean Valjean, will lead the production for seasons in Manila and Singapore from March next year. Simon will star alongside Rachelle Ann Go, direct from the West End production, and Earl Carpenter from Broadway.

 

Adding to this excitement Hayden Tee will take his incredible portrayal of Javert to New York where he will assume the role from February in the Broadway production. Hayden has firmly staked his claim on Valjean’s lifelong antagonist Javert, earning him a Green Room Award and a Theatre People Pro Choice Award for ‘Best Individual Performance’.

 

Patrice Tipoki will also be packing her bags and heading to London to star as Fantine in the West End production from February. She will bring her much loved “I Dreamed a Dream” to the production, which just celebrated its 30th Anniversary, until May when she will then join the production in Singapore.

 

 

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