by Alain Boubli and Claude-Michel Schönberg
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
$45-$85 plus sc
It's easy to diss Les Misérables, a show that has come
to seem the epitome of globalized, commodified, homogenized theatre.
Its success tends to be measured by large numbers: the 50 million
people who have seen it, the billions of dollars it has raked in,
the enormous numbers of cast, crew, set elements and companies
that have played it simultaneously, and virtually identically,
around the world. But there are very good reasons for this success.
They are all on clear display in the touring production here for
five days only at the QE Theatre, proving once again that Les
Miz is the crème de la crème of megamusicals.
First is its treatment of Victor Hugo's wonderful story of Jean
Valjean, the exploited, golden-hearted ex-con, and his obsessive
pursuit by the fascist cop Javert, set amid an abortive student
uprising in 1830s Paris, intersected by the love and salvation
stories of the orphaned Cosette, her martyred mother Fantine and
lover Marius, and counterpointed by the parasitic innkeeper and
his wife, and their daughter Eponine. It's an epic melodrama told
very effectively in Alain Boublil's adaptation and brilliantly
staged by British directors John Caird and Trevor Nunn and their
design team. Highlights include the remarkable chiaroscuro lighting
and terrific use of a large revolve, not to mention the famous
barricades set piece.
But since Les Miz is entirely sung, the show will only be as good
as its music, songs and singers. In every musical respect this
production is superlative. Claude-Michel Schönberg has created
one of the paramount scores in the modern theatre, beautiful dramatic
music for virtuoso voices. There's no faking these songs, and the
show delivers one gorgeous song and fabulous singer after another.
The singing is impeccable right through the large cast, but there
are some definite standouts. Randal Keith is a superb Valjean,
as good as the originator of the role, Colm Wilkinson, or the wonderful
Canadian Valjean, Michael Burgess. He's a barrel-chested bulldog,
equally adept with the rich baritone of "Who Am I" and the sweet
falsetto of "Bring Him Home." His duet with Tonya Dixon's lush-toned
Fantine, "Come to Me," reprised at the end of the show, is another
highlight. Melissa Lyons as Eponine does an exquisite rendition
of her signature song, "On My Own," and the rousing revolutionary
anthem "Do You Hear the People Sing" is a choral highlight. Adam
Jacobs and Leslie Henstock are fine as the Romeo and Julietish
Marius and Cosette, and David Benoit and Jennifer Butt give full
comic value as the despicably opportunistic innkeepers. The kids
are great too, Gabriella Malek as Young Cosette and Alex Rutherford
as the brave street kid, Gavroche-but then so is everyone.
Touring companies sometimes give only a second or third-rate
version of the original, but everything about this production -
the performances, the staging, the crystalline sound - is absolutely
first-rate. It's well worth the big bucks.