Music: Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics: Herbert Kretzmer
Original French text: Alain Boubil and Jean-Marc Natel
Adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo
Director: Laurence Connor and James Powell
One of the best-loved musicals of all time, Les Misérables – the longest-running musical ever in London’s West End and the second-longest worldwide – is back on tour. Cameron Mackintosh’s production, first staged to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show almost a decade ago, opened in Cardiff last night, proving once again what a sure-fire winner, this is.
Heart-rending and uplifting at the same time, with the wonderful music and lyrics showcased by a multi-talented cast, and with a plethora of great songs, this touring production in many respects exceeds expectations, given its stellar history of performances. Set in nineteenth-century France – the time of the French Revolution, when feelings ran high amid endemic violence – the story of convict Jean Valjean, sentenced for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child, who breaks his parole after already having been in prison for nineteen years, has never lost its appeal. Valjean is relentlessly pursued by police inspector Javert who, it transpires, has more than a few hang-ups to deal with himself.
A dark musical in many respects, with psychological undertones and – for those who feel that it is an essential ingredient of contemporary theatre – many parallels with what is happening in today’s world. Les Misérables is one of the most heartwarming of musical theatre experiences and is grand theatre at its best. With a plethora of memorable songs from the opening, Jean Valjean (Dean Chisnall) anguishes over his lot as he prepares to escape. Chisnall not only shows empathy with the role but his singing is outstanding throughout.
As Javert, Nic Greenshields has a commanding presence on stage with powerful vocals, showcased to perfection in Stars towards the end of Act I, as Javert begins to doubt himself. Javert is a highly complex character not easy to portray – Greenshields not only has the voice but his performance shows insight into the character, particularly in the second half as Valjean and Javert come head to head on opposing sides behind the barricades. The young aristocrat Marius, joins forces with the revolutionaries at the same time he falls for Valjean’s daughter per se Cosette. Felix Mosse looks the part and has a melodic singing voice, particularly evident in Marius’s duet with Cosette, played by Charlie Burn, a recent graduate of Arts Educational.
Now we come to the light relief provided by the Thénadiers – a devious couple hell-bent on lining their own pockets by any method available. A stellar performance by Australian actress and singer Helen Walsh as Madame Thénardier and Welsh actor Ian Hughes who – although understandably on home territory but fully deserved – brought the house to its feet on opening night with the evergreen Master of the House. A nimble footed Thénardier at the start reminiscent of Fagin from Oliver!, Hughes segues seamlessly into the monster who will stop at nothing.
Matt Kinley’s brilliant sets, backed up by the use of video footage taken from Hugo’s own paintings are a major feature, although over-used in Act II. Enhanced throughout by atmospheric lighting in the capable hands of lighting designer Paule Constable, wonderful music with new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke and Stephen Metcalfe, unforgettable lyrics, expert and atmospheric staging – what more can you want?
Runs until 4th January 2020 | Image: Contributed