Original French Text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel
Additional Material by James Fenton
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Directed by Jim McMullan for Canberra Philharmonic Society
Erindale Centre February 21 to March 16
Review by Len Power
Mention ‘Les Miserables’ and the famous poster image of young Cosette with the flowing hair comes instantly to mind. Such is the power of advertising, even people who’ve never been to a musical know of this one. A phenomenon ever since its English premiere in 1985, the musical based on Victor Hugo’s 1861 epic novel has now become the second longest running musical in the world. Directed by Jim McMullen with a cast of over sixty, every aspect of Philo’s new production has come together to create a memorable experience.
Heading the cast is Dave Smith as Jean Valjean. He gives a powerful performance in the role and sings the difficult score with great precision and feeling. His ‘Bring Him Home’ is one of the highlights of the evening. Adrian Flor, as the obsessed Javert, sings the role superbly and gives, arguably, his best performance yet on the Canberra stage. There had been talk around town that, regardless of their acknowledged skills, both of these performers were too young to be convincing in these roles. Those concerns happily proved to be groundless. Both actors employ effective ageing makeup as the show progresses and their body language and performances thoughtfully take into account the passage of time.
Marius, Mat Chardon O’Dea, Eponine, Vanessa de Jager and Cosette, Laura Dawson, are in great voice and give very moving performances in their roles. Kelly Roberts tears your heart out with her wonderful Fantine and the roguish Thenardiers are played and sung delightfully by Kate Tricks and Ian Croker. Grant Pegg sings thrillingly and is very real as the fanatical student leader, Enjolras. Everyone else in the cast does an excellent job to bring this period of history to life.
The substantial set with lots of interesting nooks and crannies, designed by Jim McMullan and Ian Croker, works very well and is complemented by the atmospheric lighting design of Carl Makin and audio design by Eclipse Sound and Lighting. The balance of sound between orchestra and performers was just right. The costumes (over 200 of them), designed by Anne Mewburn-Grey, capture the period of the show and the clever choreography is by Miranda Cookman. The Wedding Chorale sequence becomes a highlight of the show where costumes and choreography complement each other perfectly.
A sung-through musical like this one needs a very skilful musical director. Casey White produced an excellent sound from the orchestra, bringing out all the subtleties, colour and grandness in this massive score. The unseen orchestra deserves a special mention – they must be exhausted by the end of the performance.
This was the fourth stage production of ‘Les Miserables’ I’ve seen, but I was still moved to tears at the end of the show. Don’t miss it!
Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 24 February 2013