Les Misérables: do you still hear the people sing?

Is there anyone in the West that hasn’t seen this visage?

It might be a bit difficult to believe considering what this blog is dominated by, but the very first craze I ever developed involved musicals. But it’s one that I never really developed beyond the first musical I ever saw — which I’ve actually already mentioned onceLes Misérables. I’ve often wished I lived either in London or New York, so that I could got and see it whenever I’ve needed my fix; that said, the 9 and a half year gap only made me far more excited to see it once again.

I’m sure that I hardly need to summarise what Les Mis is all about: an unforgettable story of love and loss, sin and salvation, all set against the backdrop of revolutionary France. It’s a phenomenon that hardly needs an introduction in the West anymore, what with the numerous cast recordings, stage concerts and even a movie rendition of the musical in 2012. However, although I’ve got several of the more famous recordings, I’ve hardly touched it for years. The last time I encountered Les Mis prior to this performance — at the Crown Theatre in Perth last month — was the DVD release of the 25th anniversary concert. Seeing the original cast gather on stage was quite a timely reminder of some of the most memorable actors who ever took on those parts. I’m also quite a fan of some of the song renditions in the 2012 film, so this 30th anniversary production had quite a lot to live up to. Everyone has their own ideal cast, based on all the recordings and performances they’ve heard and seen: how did this new Australian cast fair?

LesMis_04 LesMis_03
Valjean and Javert: without a doubt, the main draws of this production…

Overall, I would have to give it a thumbs up, albeit, a not-so-enthusiastic one. What usually makes or breaks Les Mis are the roles of Jean Valjean, the ex-convict seeking a new, respectable life, and Javert, the inspector chasing him across France. And Simon Gleeson and Hayden Tee really step up to the plate. Whilst it’s almost impossible to top Colm Wilkinson, I had no complaints about Gleeson whatsoever. However, I would say that Hayden Tee stole the show for me: his rendition of “Stars” is most definitely one of the best I’ve heard. That said, the moment I felt that this production would be ok was during “The Confrontation”…the way that Gleeson and Tee played off each other gave me goosebumps.

Of course, nothing’s ever perfect. Most of the other roles were little more than passable. The role of Fantine has probably suffered since 2012, because the film rearrangement that made “I Dreamed a Dream” more tragic means that the wistful tune in the stage version doesn’t quite pack the same punch anymore. (Though I must admit that I never really found it that much of a draw in the musical anyway.) This version of Eponine, Enjolras, Marius and Cosette didn’t make me like — or dislike — their characters any more than I already did either. That’s quite a feat, actually, for at the halfway mark, the thin and high voice of the person playing Marius had me in trepidation about “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” I’d have to say that Eddie Redmayne’s version is still my favourite, though the very first person I heard performing it — in the 10th anniversary Australian production — also holds a fond place in my memories. It’s a pity Marius has to be quite slimly built (because Valjean has to carry him in the show) — in my limited experience, it’s extremely hard to find someone of that stature with the fuller, deeper voice that I like hearing in that role. But ultimately, if there was one role I was a little disappointed about, it would have been Grantaire, who could have sounded just a little edgier, a little more uncouth.

Let others rise to take our place!

The final thing I should talk about is how the sets and direction have been revamped for this production. Some of the changes were really effective. In particular, I really appreciated how visual projections helped bring the sewer scenes to life: you could really feel how cavernous that labyrinth was. However, on balance, I think I prefer the previous arrangements, which consisted mostly of innovative interlocking parts that were rearranged for different scenes. For example, the buildings on which the students stood to proclaim their beliefs doubled as the barricades upon which they later held their last stand. I particularly missed the revolving set-up that facilitated one of the most iconic visions of the show: Enjolras lying on the barricades.

In the end, however, I wouldn’t have traded going to see the show again for anything else…well, other than the opportunity to have seen it at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. The Crown Theatre isn’t really the best venue for musical theatre, as it just isn’t intimate enough. Whilst I admittedly do not have the expertise to really comment on acoustics and other technical aspects of these productions, I still have really fond memories of how much closer I felt to the action when at the West End or Broadway. Nevertheless, I’ve really missed watching Les Mis on stage, and I would gladly go to see this Valjean and Javert face off against each other once again.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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