— Sayer Roberts and Jennie Neumann. Photo by David Cooper
Bill Millerd’s outstanding staging of Les Miz at the Stanley in the summer of 2009 was deservedly the best-selling show in the Arts Club’s long history. One of the greatest musicals ever got a resounding production from a cast of superb singers. This summer’s remount, with many of the same artists, has much the same effect.
The design is essentially the same: Ted Roberts’ handsome set, Marsha Sibthorpe’s dramatic lighting and Alison Green’s vivid period costumes (take a good look at Madame Thénardier at the wedding ball near the end). Bruce Kellett re-orchestrates the stirring score for Ken Cormier’s six-piece orchestra, and Chris Daniels’ original sound mix remains crystal clear.
Kieran Martin Murphy returns as the fugitive Jean Valjean, Nicola Lipman as delightfully sleazy Mme Thénardier, and Kaylee Harwood, with her glorious soprano, as grown-up Cosette.
The new additions are equal to the cast they’ve replaced, and in some cases better. Rebecca Talbot makes an exquisite Fantine and Jennie Neumann finds both the poignancy and power of Éponine. On the men’s side Stuart Barkley is in fine voice as the student leader Enjolas, terrific Andrew Wheeler takes crass and repulsive to a new level as the crowd-pleasing rascal Thénardier, and Arts Club favourite Warren Kimmel’s obsessive Inspector Javert commands the stage. With his leading-man looks and beautiful voice, Sayer Roberts is startlingly good as Marius and promises to be a star.
As in 2009, Murphy’s Valjean disappointed me. Murphy captures Valjean’s anguish but his voice isn’t up to the demands of one of the most difficult vocal roles in contemporary musical theatre. He talks through some lyrics, changes registers and sometimes avoids the big high notes. He harmonizes nicely. But in Valjean’s solos, especially the exquisite “Bring Him Home,” Murphy doesn’t rise to the level we’ve come to expect.
Even after seeing five productions of Les Miz in Vancouver since 2004, plus the movie, plus listening to the original cast recording, I still can’t get enough of this show. The great Arts Club voices keep playing in my head days later: Talbot’s “I Dreamed a Dream,” Harwood’s “In My Life,” the company’s “One Day More.” Go hear the people sing down at the Stanley. This is a winner.