Thursday, 3 July 2014

Les Misérables, Review Opening Night, July 3, 2014 *****

Adapted from novel by Victor Hugo; Music & Book by Claude-Michel Shönberg; Book & original French Lyrics by Alain Boublil & Jean-Marc Natel; English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer; Adapted for stage by Trevor Nunn & John Caird
A Cameron Mackintosh production; Australian producer  Michael Cassel
Her Majesty’s Theatre, from July 3, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
This review also published in Herald Sun News online on the night of July 3 and in print on Fri July 4, 2014.  KH

The excitement and anticipation are palpable amongst the glitterati at the opening night of Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Les Misérables in Melbourne, the undisputed music theatre capital of Australia.

Based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century epic novel, Les Mis is the epitome of tragedy and romance, balancing narrative threads that encompass deprivation and abuse, unrequited love, false imprisonment, fiercely loyal friendship, self-sacrifice and class struggle.

Laurence Connor and James Powell revitalise Les Mis with their assured direction and inventive vision, introducing a new design concept and a consummate Australian cast to rival those in the West End or Broadway.

This show is a musical and theatrical triumph thanks to Claude-Michel Shönberg’s soaring, orchestral music, a repertoire of unforgettable, passionate songs and evocative lyrics performed by exceptional voices.

Les Mis has an operatic grandeur, not only because it is sung through without spoken dialogue, but because of its swelling choruses and heart wrenching solos. 

For those who do not know the tale, Les Misérables is set in early 19th century France during the revolutionary upheaval of the Paris uprising. Jean Valjean (Simon Gleeson), a French peasant who seeks redemption after years of imprisonment, jumps parole and is pursued relentlessly by a police officer, Javert (Hayden Tee).

Gleeson has a rich lower register thrilling top notes and his dynamic vocal range and impassioned performance do justice to the challenging role of Valjean and to songs including What Have I Done? Who Am I? and the poignant Bring Him Home.

Patrice Tipoki captures the despair and fragility of Fantine when she sings the moving I Dreamed A Dream, and her duet with Gleeson (Fantine’s Death) is affecting.

Hayden Tee brings a tough, pious self-righteousness to the obsessive Javert, and his powerful baritone gives depth to Javert’s solo, The Stars, and vulnerable self-doubt to Javert’s Suicide.

A memorable moment is the stirring version of One Day More in which the voices of the lead characters build a layered chorus of complex harmonies and melodies.

Another highlight is the inspiring and rousing rebel chorus of Do You Hear The People Sing? as the students man the barricades and face death.

Kerrie Anne Greenland is a feisty and tender Éponine singing On My Own, while Emily Langridge’s pretty voice suits the sweetly childlike Cosette.

Euan Doidge is youthful and idealistic as Marius, the loved one of both young women, and he sings a touching rendition of Empty Chairs and Empty Tables after all his student friends are killed in the uprising.

Trevor Ashley and Lara Mulcahy are hilariously grotesque as the cruel and greedy innkeepers, Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, Chris Durling has presence as Enjolras, the militant student leader.

The orchestra is outstanding under conductor, Geoffrey Castles, Matt Kinley’s revamped design depicts the grim, Parisian landscape in the gritty, sepia-toned set and in projections inspired by Victor Hugo’s paintings.

Les Misérables comes with a formidable heritage but, with its deft direction and gifted cast, this production is on the road to victory. Can you hear the people sing?

By Kate Herbert

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