Really you don’t want to hear that. Seriously. As much as I love “Stars” and “Bring Him Home” even I acknowledge that my shower singing voice for them is TERRIBLE. So I kept the urge in check this past weekend when my wife and I had the joy of seeing the return of Les Miserables to the Princess of Wales theatre. It was quite amusing though to see how many couldn’t resist their own renditions during intermission.
I should mention that Les Mis has always been a favorite of mine and Shannon has seen it once before, but my brother decided to treat us to tickets for this new travelling production for our 5th anniversary. It turned out to be an incredible show, and despite the fact that we had both seen it before, this production was all new, with staging redone and a very different, grittier tone to the production. I suspect there are many things that influenced this, including the recent movie, but let me back up a bit about the staging.
If you ever saw the original show, you may recall that is made heavy use of a specialized turn-table style stage. It allowed the cast to move around sets that rotated, or to be moved around the huge stage as they sang. At the time it was quite revolutionary (pun intended) and made for quite the spectacle in the original production. You couldn’t forget it. This time around they have taken that away and moved to using a projection screen, with images both by Victor Hugo himself and inspired by him. That with the new sets, created a more intimate and smaller stage setting. It didn’t take away from any of the spectacle of the sets or the performances, if anything I think it made them more powerful. The death of Javert wasn’t as abstract, with just a swirling light hinting at water beneath him…this time he “fell” back into the screen, swallowed up by it in an amazing bit of stagecraft.
This also brought home how much better the action and performances seemed. Perhaps it was because it seemed to be on a smaller scale, but “Confrontation” between Javert and Valjean was once just the two of them stalking the stage while singing that amazing number at each other. There wasn’t much actual “confrontation” the first time I saw it…this time though, the leads truly fought, with manacles slapping stage, choking out Javert before a chain wrapped fist allowed Valjean to escape. As I said, this production is much grittier and felt more….real. I won’t spoil all of the changes and action but it goes through the entire show.
I suspect that a lot of this was influenced by the recent movie, even though this travelling production was in the works before the movie’s release. One of the big points of the movie version was how raw the singing was, not pitch perfect Broadway style that Les Mis and pretty much all musicals are. The actors were allowed to add their own pauses, and moments of actual acting, where perfect singing might not work. That could definitely be seen in this production, though to a lesser extent. It worked well…and yes Valjean and Javert were amazing. I didn’t know the actors for them, but they hit their songs perfectly…without any of the “Russell Crowe taking me out of the movie” issues…I had no real issues with any of the cast, though I have yet to ever see a Marius that I ever really like…and once more Eponine stole the show.
If you have never seen Les Miserables, you owe it to yourself to try to get tickets for this limited run. If you HAVE seen it, you still owe it to yourself. The sign of any good musical is when you find yourself humming, or outright singing the songs of it the next day. I remember this was one of the reasons I disliked the Lord of the Rings musical all those years back. For its amazing stagework, choreography and even acting…the music was utterly forgettable. Les Mis stands the test of time giving you songs that both raise the spirits and break the heart…sometimes all at once.
As a side note, since this is the Geek on Wheels, I should note that its obvious how the Princess of Wales theatre was built with accessibility as an afterthought. They do their best, but it is far from an ideal setup for anyone with issues, let alone if you are in a wheelchair. Shannon and I ended up in seats right down in the orchestra section, barely ten rows from the stage, but at the far end against a wall. Two seats had been removed, in the theory that people in wheelchairs could sit there, with a huge space behind us. They brought Shannon a wing back chair to sit in and I requested the same since I could transfer, so that made the show a bit more comfortable. The most telling issue though was the amazingly steep slope that you had to walk down from the entry doors into the actual theatre. It is at an odd camber as well which made getting back up it quite the challenge. They do their best, but you can tell that a theatre built 1993 really wasn’t taking accessibility into account. It’s unfortunate given what an amazing venue it is…but perhaps the recent news that the theatre may soon be torn down and replaced will improve things for the disabled…it’s still a shame though.
Seriously….go see this production. If you enjoy theatre or musicals of any kind, this staging of Les Mis was one of the best I’ve seen (minus Colm Wilkinson of course). It made for a fantastic anniversary gift that Shannon and I will treasure…and that my parents, my brother Michael and his SO Priscilla loved. Thanks again for it little brother. The Lion King’s return is going to be on us.