theatre review

by Alain Boubli and Claude-Michel Schönberg
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
November 10-14
$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.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:17 PM
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