Do you hear the people sing? I did on Friday night and I still have goosebumps from hearing it. Before I begin this, you need to know that I am obsessed with the musical Les Miserables and you are about to hear all about it. My love affair started 25 years ago when my sister said she was going to see a musical called Les Miserables. I’d never heard of the story but had seen an Australian TV personality sing a song from it on a talk show. The song, Bring Him Home was so beautiful so I decided that I would go and see it.
Tickets purchased, I headed off with the others to see this reasonably unknown (at least in Australia at the time) stage show. I had no expectations. Bring him Home was the only song I had heard from it so didn’t know what to expect from the story or the music. My mind was an open book, ready to have an opinion written on a fresh page. I really do love musicals so I figured I would enjoy it. After all, it would have to be really lousy for me to not enjoy it. Even musicals that I haven’t LOVED, I’ve still liked. I was ready to sit back and enjoy a night at the theatre.
What I DIDN’T expect, was to fall madly, deeply and passionately in love that night. Not with any of the performers but with a story and music that would touch my heart and soul in a way that I have never expected anything other than my children ever could. The words and music reached straight into my heart, grabbed hold of it and have never let it go. I only have to hear the opening strains of any of the songs and I am transported back in time to Paris and the struggle facing the people of the streets. I have always considered it MY show, but last night I faced the truth, it’s not mine…. I am it’s. I don’t own it, it owns me.
For Christmas this year, my son and daughter in law bought tickets for us to see it here in Sydney. It was even more exciting as they were flying up here for the weekend to attend and any opportunity I have to see them is a great time as far as I’m concerned. So, we got ourselves organised in the afternoon to make the 2 hour trek into Sydney, with the loves of my life to see the other great love of my life.
We booked into the Capitol Thai restaurant next door to the Capitol theatre for dinner. The meal was amazing. I was so excited that any meal would have tasted fantastic but this truly was delicious. We were nice and early for the show so went in and just soaked in the atmosphere of the beautiful Capitol theatre. What a showpiece it is. Certainly very over the top as far as today’s standards go but it was exactly the sort of theatre I love. Every elegant feature spoke of a bygone era when going to the theatre was a huge occasion. It still is to me.
As we took our seats, the excitement really started to build… and the dread. I’m always frightened that the performances won’t be worthy of the show. I had heard that this particular production was going to include digital projections and to be honest, the purist in me thought, why? Was this done to cater for a more non imaginative audience who needed the visual cues to understand the storyline? I really wasn’t convinced that it was needed.
The staging was so different to the usual stage I have come to know. It was much smaller than i was used to seeing and that was partially to do with the stage design spreading out into the wings. I could see it was going to be a very different production to those I had seen earlier and I was trying to keep a very open mind.
Then it started. The opening music began and I sat holding my breath for the first lines. A projection appeared on a thin silk curtain and the opening song began. ♫ Look down, look down.. Don’t look them in the eye.. Look down, look down. You’re here until you die.♫ Men rowing a boat while being beaten by their captors sang in strong beautiful voices and the soft projection showed waves breaking up the sides of the boat. I started to breathe. The projection took nothing away from the purity of the show, merely added to the beauty. It was subtle and dark, in keeping with the feel of the show.
By the time Jean Valjean had decided to turn his life around after being shown love by the Bishop, I was already crying. Not so much for the storyline at the time, but for the sheer beauty that threatened to completely overwhelm me. I have seen this show so many times and didn’t think it could ever get more beautiful…. but it did! I was captivated.
The voices were certainly not as classical as the performances I first fell in love with and if I’m honest, I still prefer the stronger voices. There were however some amazing performances. Simon Gleeson played Jean Valjean and his rendition of Bring Him Home was breathtaking. It was perfect. He hit every note with just the right amount of sweetness, pleading and angst. I think I held my breath all the way through it.
The role of the Bishop is often undervalued by theatre goers but in reality is a pivotal character and should be revered as such. The Bishop changes the life of Jean Valjean and as a result he also changes the lives of the hundreds of people who’s paths Jean Valjean crosses. He is the reason our main character learns what love is and pays that love forward in his lifetime. When I went to see the movie, I cried when I realised that Colm Wilkinson (the original Jean Valjean) had been chosen to play the part. It was a great mark of respect for the man who made the lead role his own. He did it beautifully too. However, I believe the part played on Friday by Rodney Dobson was possibly the best Bishop of Digne I have ever heard.
Javert played by Hayden Tee was another strong performance with the strength and voice I have come to expect. The only thing missing from his performance was a bit of the vulnerability which taunts him and ultimately causes his death. However, the way his death was stage seriously made me gasp. It was brilliant.
I thought Fantine was a bit overacted though her voice was good. Cossette’s voice was also good however she did hit a few shrill notes, but all in all, she did a great job. Enjolras and Marius were not as strong as I’m used to but also played the parts well. The children, as always were fantastic. Madame & Monsieur Thenardiere were brilliant. I hope I don’t sound negative with the few criticisms.. That certainly isn’t my intention as I loved every moment of it but if I do prefer a strong, classical voice and I felt these were a little lacking vocally. I also believe that was intentional.
I think Cameron Mackintosh decided to make the voices less the hero of the show and make the acting and storyline the emphasis. It seemed to be a smaller ensemble than usual but oh boy, when they sang, they made up for it. To hear the ensemble come back in at the very end with the hauntingly beautiful, Do you Hear the People Sing, made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe it.
I could rave on for hours about it. I really did love it. I cried all the way through. I was unable to stop the tears throughout the death of Eponine, Gavroche and Valjean. I have never cried so much through any performance of it. I think that says it all. It was the most emotional portrayal of the story I have ever seen. It was magnificent. I want to go back right now to see it again.
So I’m going to give you the list of my dream cast. My dream cast is made up of people who have played these roles and those I believe were the best ever. A few roles may have two names next to them, only because I think Colm Wilkinson deserves ever accolade possible. I won’t choose a young Gavroche or Cossette as they have all been superb in the role and I would do all the kids who’ve played this role an injustice by choosing. So here’s my dream cast:
Jean Valjean: Alfie Boe/Colm Wilkinson
Javert: Philip Quast
Fantine: Debra Byrne
Eponine: Leah Salonga
Cossette: Katie Hall
Marius: Michael Ball
Enjolras: Anthony Warlow
Mnsr Thenardier: Matt Lucas/Alun Armstrong
Mdme Thenardier: Jenny Galloway/Me (yes, this role was written for me)
The Bishop of Digne: Rodney Dobson/Colm Wilkinson
If you get a chance to see this latest production, make sure you do. It’s worth it. If not, get the movie, the DVD of the 10th or 25th Anniversary shows or just scour Youtube as I’m doing right now. Let the music steal your heart as it’s stolen mine.
Happy listening… Livvy xx