Midway through its two-month run, the Arts Club has announced that Les Miz has become the best-selling production in its history and is holding over for another two weeks. There are many good reasons why this should be so. Les Miz is certainly the best show to come out of the mega-musical era and must be considered among the top five, or even top three, theatrical musicals ever. And Bill Millerd’s production is a gem, adapting beautifully to the constraints of the Stanley stage and finding in an almost entirely local company nearly all the great voices needed to do justice to the fabulous score.
Now that the big-stage special effects of the mega-musical have become routine, even clichéd, we don’t need the huge barricades set-piece on which the Parisian revolutionaries fight and die. It wouldn’t have fit on the Stanley stage anyway, and would have been too expensive for this production. Ted Roberts’ functional set provides the necessary levels for the action and his barricades are large enough and impressive enough to do the job. Alison Green’s period costumes are vividly effective and Marsha Sibthorpe barrages the stage with dramatic lighting effects. The show looks very good, and Bruce Kellett’s six-piece orchestra provides a full sound for the wonderful music without drowning out the singing that occupies the centre of the show.
Victor Hugo’s epic tale of love and revolution, poverty, pursuit, and redemption in early 19th century France has been given beautiful shape and pace in Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s musical adaptation. Schönberg’s score and Herbert Kretzmer’s lyrics are powerfully dramatic and sometimes exquisite, and only a full cast of real singers can do them justice. This production delivers in almost every case. There are so many standouts. The women are especially strong, led by Sara-Jean Hosie’s heartbreaking Fantine (who has the especially difficult task, post-Susan Boyle, of singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” which she does magically) and Kaylee Harwood’s beautiful soprano Cosette. Emily Matchette as Young Cosette is no slouch either, and Rebecca Talbot’s Éponine comes on very strong in the second act. Nicola Lipman is colourful and funny as the sleazy innkeeper’s wife, Madame Thénardier.
The very best of the men are Toronto’s Réjean Cournoyer as the Ahab-like obsessive Inspector Javert and Jonathan Winsby as the revolutionary leader Enjolas. Both actors deliver extraordinarily powerful performances and Winsby is in great voice for the anthemic “Do You Hear the People Sing?” John Mann is a delightfully sleazy Master of the House Thénardier, Jeffrey Victor is sweet-voiced as the lover Marius, and Little Joshua Ballard as Gavroche holds his own among the adults. Edmonton’s Kieran Martin Murphy has some very tough acts to follow as Jean Valjean, including the original, Colm Wilkinson, and the original Canadian, Michael Burgess, both of whose performances are so familiar to Les Miz fans from recording and previous productions. He has the right look and the dramatic strength, but his singing falters from time to time. However, he almost completely redeems himself with the oh so beautiful “Bring Him Home.”
Moving, often soaring, and always entertaining, this is a Les Miz to remember.