Review: Les Misérables - with passion and fire
Right: Simon Gleeson (Jean Valjean ) and Hayden Tee (Javert)
Below right: Patrice Tipoki as Fantine
Photos by Matt Murphy
Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell
Presented by Cameron Mackintosh
Queensland Performing Artts Centre
The season runs from November 13, 2015 to January 17, 2016. Bookings: QTIX 136246 or www.qpac.com.au
The musical Les Misérables is based on the novel by Victor Hugo and 2015 marks its 30th anniversary on stages around the world. The story follows the life of Jean Valjean, who after 19 years on the chain gang, tries to find honest work and is shunned due to the ticket-of-leave he must display. Only the Bishop of Digne treats him kindly, but Valjean repays this kindness by stealing some silver. The police catch Valjean, but the Bishop lies to save him, and tells Valjean that he has now bought his soul for God. Valjean decides to start his life anew.
For the 30th anniversary of this show, the set has been redesigned by Matt Kinley using Victor Hugo’s own paintings and drawings as projected backdrops, along with 19th Century French photography. This has the effect of providing a clearer notion of location, and combined with the extremely clever set pieces which are set at both edges of the stage and glide out to centre stage to form a full ‘row of terraced houses’.
As well as the numerous other set drops that occur to create the many scenes required. The set changes in this show are seamless and some are quite breathtaking. The use of a see-through drop curtain also allows projections of waves splashing against the boat as the chain gang plies the oars at the beginning and for the effect of snow falling in another scene. The set is simply stunning and masterful and has to be one of the best I have ever seen.
Simon Gleeson is Jean Valjean and plays him with passion and fire. The songs were beautifully sung and my favourite was Bring Him Home, which displays Gleeson’s singing talent from the soft lilting prayer to God to the powerful request to let himself die in Marius’ place.
Javert is Valjean’s nemesis and relentlessly pursues him as Valjean has broken his parole. Hayden Tee’s portrayal of Javert is just as imposing and passionate. Tee and Gleeson work well together as the two ‘arch enemies’. Javert’s Soliloquy in the second half really wrenches your heart for him, even though he is portrayed as the ‘bad guy’.
Patrice Tipoki is Fantine, a worker in a factory owned by Monsieur Madeleine (Valjean having changed his name) and while this is not a lengthy part, she plays her with such heartfelt conviction, you do get a sense of who she is and her despair when she is dismissed from the factory and ends up on the streets.
Lara Mulcahy and Trevor Ashley are the Thénardiers, the innkeepers looking after Fantine’s secret child, Cosette and to whom Fantine sends nearly all her earnings. The Thénardiers are not the nicest of people, They make their living by scamming, stealing and blackmail. Mulcahy and Ashley were perfectly cast in the parts and really brought the characters to life. Their song, Master of the House, was particularly clever and shows the Thénardiers at their best, plying customers with diluted alcohol and stealing purses at the same time, while making them think they are doing their best for them. Kerrie Anne Greenland is Eponine, the Thénardiers’ daughter. Greenland was superb in her characterisation of Eponine.
Emily Langridge is the Cosette, Fantine’s daughter. She also was superb in her portrayal of the character. Also an absolute delight was Little Cosette, who is played by Phoebe Barnett. Her rendition of Castle on a Cloud was quite endearing.
The two main students of Enjolras and Marius were played by Chris Durling and Euan Doidge respectively. Durling was marvellous as Enjolras, leading the band of disillusioned students in a rebellion against the authorities and rallying the people of Paris into joining with them with the resounding The People’s Song. Clever moving projection during this song gave the impression that the students and citizens were indeed marching through the streets of Paris. The other character worthy of mention is Gavroche, a young boy who is the students’ messenger and very street wise. He was played by Nicholas Cradock to a tee.
The costumes and wigs produced for Les Mis were perfect – they portrayed the time period in which the action is set, from the whores on the street to the middle class and upper class of Paris. Some were stunning. Madame Thénardier’s dress for the wedding scene is absolutely divine, making her ‘larger than life’ and stealing the scene.
I am sure that every audience member came away with a different memorable moment and song that plays over in their heads. For me it is In My Life, sung by Cosette, Valjean, Marius and Eponine. The singing talent that was on stage was simply wonderful and did full justice to the amazing songs that are Les Mis.
There is laughter and tears while watching this show and I thoroughly enjoyed this latest rendition, as did the rest of the audience. This was displayed with fervour in a standing ovation lasting at least five minutes at the end. The cast deserved this accolade, as does the director, James Powell, orchestra, set, lighting, stage design, wardrobe, makeup and all the other members of the crew that made the experience of Les Mis one of the most outstanding musicals one can be privileged to see.