Les Misérables (2014)
In my 28th year of life, I finally saw Les Mis live on stage. It may come as a surprise to some that I’d never previously had the chance (I’d only seen the filmed anniversary concerts and the 2012 film). Suffice to say, I was pretty excited. That is probably why, when Simon Gleeson as Jean Valjean belted out that “the story must BEGIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN!” and the Les Misérables logo was projected onto the stage, I may have become a bit emotional. For my real Les Mis experience must BEGIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN! Cue tears.
I can’t compare this new production with those of old as many reviewers are wont to do, but I can tell you that it is pretty bloody amazing. The story, the score, the cast, the effects, the costumes, the make-up, the EVERYTHING. This is top-notch Aussie theatre, and I’d even bet that it surpasses the current Broadway production. Even though Andy Mientus from Smash is in that one. And he’s adorable.
Les Mis is probably about as epic as you can get for a musical. Spanning seventeen years we follow multiple characters and their interconnecting stories, with Jean Valjean and his escape from the law – and in particular Inspector Javert (Hayden Tee) – at the forefront. All he did was steal a loaf of bread – Geez Javert, make like Elsa and let it go already. But yes that is supposedly enough of a crime to offset a three hour musical. It may be the longest first act that you have ever seen, and if you’re new to musical theatre, maybe don’t start with this one unless you have a keen interest in the French revolution and such. It is also sung-through and we know how much some losers hate that. I personally think it’s PRETTY MUCH THE BEST THING EVER.
The score is magnificent, with repeated motifs throughout. I must admit I’m a bit over ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ because it has been done to death over the years and I can’t get Anne Hathaway’s obvious pandering to the Academy out of my head. But there’s so many other brilliant songs – ‘One Day More’, ‘Bring Him Home’, ‘On My Own’, ‘Red and Black’, ‘Valjean’s Soliloquy’, ‘Who am I?’, ‘Stars’, to name a few. ‘The Confrontation’ is the best sung-through argument ever. YOU TELL HIM VALJEAN! My personal favourite is ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ – it makes my heart hurt. There are so many powerhouse vocals in Les Mis and some of the high notes make me Lose. My. Shit. If you’re not impressed by Valjean belting out “Two Four Six Oh OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONE!” then don’t even talk to me.
The cast is killer. I had hoped and prayed that Simon Gleeson would be cast as Valjean and I’m not even religious. Nevertheless those prayers were answered and I practically ran into the theatre foyer on the night to check that his name was on the cast board. He was perfection, obviously. Hayden Tee knocked it out of the park as Javert. He was amazing and hella intense! I was one of the very few people that defended Russell Crowe as being “not that bad” in the film version. But seriously, when you hear what a good Javert can sound like, it makes you want to hit Russell Crowe in the face with a telephone.
Kerrie Anne Greenland makes her professional debut as Eponine and WOW. That voice! She was gritty, emotive, and threw everything she had into the role. Please cast her in more things! Patrice Tipoki uglied it up as Fantine (the bloody teeth were terrifying!) and was great, but I don’t get why they insist on giving so many Fantines crappy blonde wigs. It’s always a pleasure to see Euan Doidge on stage and he was a gorgeous Marius. To Emily Langridge’s credit she almost made me like Cosette who really is just such a wet sap. I’ve always found it hard to believe that Marius really is that shallow to believe he’s in love with her after just one glance. A well-dressed blonde? So clichéd, Marius.
Trevor Ashley was hilarious as always in his role as Thenardier, and Octavia Barron Martin was a joy to watch as the understudy for Madame Thenardier. Chris Durling was totes gorgeous as Enjolras, with a sublime voice to match. Ben Jason-Easton almost stole the show as little Gavroche, and Alexandra Travers adorbed it up as young Cosette. Special shout outs to Rodney Dobson, Zoy Frangos, Lincoln Hall and Chloe Zuel in the ensemble. You guys rock.
There’s no turn-table in the new production which I’m a bit bummed about because I never got to see it. Nevertheless, the sets are still impressive, with video projections inspired by Victor Hugo’s illustrations adding an extra layer. There were some impressive effects and the fall of the barricade scene made particularly good use of the lighting. The costumes were gorgeous, particularly at the wedding, but also at the barricades. I was very impressed with the make-up (and most of the wigs bar Fantine’s) but I was in the front row so I probably had a closer look than most. The way that they aged Valjean and Javert was exceptionally good.
Despite initially getting bad reviews when it first opened on the West End back in 1985, Les Mis has won the world over. It has remained open there ever since, played a sixteen year run on Broadway (with two subsequent revivals), been staged in 42 countries, and been translated in 21 languages. It’s pretty safe to say THIS IS THE SHIT. So eat it up.
Les Misérables is currently playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne