Everybody raise a glass to the masterpiece that is Les Misérables – revamped, restaged… remarkable!
Reopening such an iconic show no doubt comes with its pressures but this production team, alongside their cast and orchestra, have both done homage to and exceeded the original. Les Misérables follows the journey of the ex-convict Valjean through revolution-torn France, a journey that is haunted by the ghosts of his past. This is not your typical airy-fairy musical – it is gritty and gut-wrenching and I cannot urge anybody and everybody enough to make this a top viewing priority.
I, myself, am a self-confessed Les Mis super fan. My one-woman re-enactment of this show, whilst not of the West End calibre, did help me in other departments – it meant that my expectations, and apprehensions, were set unbelievably high… but Mackintosh surpassed them all!
Les Misérables expertly balances the despair and comedy of political tension and social unrest. The soundtrack is a thing of true beauty and, with the exception of one very minor lyric mishap (unnoticeable to those that don’t eat sleep and breathe Les Misérables like I do), this version carries it out in absolute perfection. The clarity and strength of the voices of Jon Robyns (Val Jean) and Bradley Jaden (Javert) render jaws at floor level. Shan Ako’s adaptation of Eponine is soulful yet refreshing – her background as a singer/songwriter is evident and infuses a bit of panache into the very well-worn, but nevertheless sensational, On My Own. What we have here is a jazzed-up Eponine. The end of Act One, culminating in the rousing One Day More, keeps all of its traditional features – why mess with perfection? The flag of revolution is soaring above the patriotic marching of the cast, leaving the audience with the image of little Gavroche riding high upon the shoulders of the students– a fitting reflection of the highflying career he is definitely on track for.
But, on to the biggest change – the staging. This new version, somewhat ironically, feels more dynamic than the version that had a literal moving stage. This is utterly gimmick-less. It champions complex simplicity. A lot of the time, the songs and performers are left to just sing for themselves. It feels like a reversion to pure musical theatre. With a soundtrack that is so heavily loaded both in emotion and technicality, it is a sheer delight to watch these numbers be performed in a style intended to showcase and respect their brilliance. Two standout numbers include Bring Him Home (a few tears were rolling here) and Empty Chairs at Empty Tables (the tears were borderline uncontrollable by this point). In fact, the staging of this number in particular is just stunning; the nuanced adaptation of blowing out fairy lights whilst having the ghosts of Marius’ (Harry Apps) friends around him is utterly chilling and entirely beautiful. Throughout the performance, the backdrop features artistic impressions of cityscapes and landscapes thus tying its classical beauty to innovations like the fire-cracking gunshots, videography and aerial theatrics.
This production, at times, seems influenced by the 2012 film adaptation, perhaps by coincidence, but the characterisation of Enjolras and the sewer episode could have been lifted directly from the screen onto the stage. Les Misérables on stage is a bestseller in its own right, it does not need to mimic the film adaptation.
Regardless, Les Misérables is brilliance personified and this new production will only add to its revered status.
- By Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg
- Produced by Cameron Mackintosh
- Orchestra directed by Steve Moss
- Cast includes: Jon Robyns, Bradley Jaden, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Josefina Gabrielle, Ian Hughes, Shan Ako, Lily Kerhoas, Ashley Gilmour, Harry Apps
- Sondheim Theatre
- Time: 3 hours, including one 15 minute interval