Tweetingit: 5* Victor Hugo’s sprawling epic seamlessly transfers from stage to the stadium rock atmosphere of London’s 02 Arena. A perfect production showcasing rare genius.
Once upon a time I acquired the hardback version of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Needless to say 1,232 pages stayed in pristine condition as I contrived excuses not to read it. Hugo’s masterpiece had so many alternative uses – mine was primarily a doorstop before its convenient loss during a house move. Any literary guilt was assuaged by the brilliant stage version that first graced the London stage in 1985. My own twisted logic dictated that I no longer needed to read the book. It is after all a brilliantly distilled version of the novel that marries narrative with beautifully constructed songs.
This film made in 2010 marked the 25th anniversary of the show’s first production at the Barbican. The transfer from theatre to the stadium like 02 Arena might at first present a challenge. However, Les Mis easily fills the 20,000 capacity venue as the songs grow bigger and better. Two giant screens flank a full orchestra and huge choir stretching across the stage. Sets are stripped away as cast members take the stage in authentic 19th Century costume. The unique atmosphere was obvious even on the small screen and one could sense the film captured a very special night.
Les Mis tells of the story Jean Valjean (Alfie Boe), a man who spent 19 years in prison for stealing bread to feed his sister’s starving son. He attempts to start a new life but is thwarted by poverty as nobody will employ an ex-con. He reinvents himself as Monsieur Madeleine and becomes a factory owner. In so doing he breaks parole and sets Inspector Javert (Norm Lewis) on his tail. Valjean employs Fantine (Lea Salonga) who leaves daughter Cosette with the Thenadiers (Matt Lucas and Jenny Galloway). Jealous co-workers force Fantine out of the factory and into prostitution. Circumstances eventually bring Valjean and Cosette together as Javert edges closer to his target.
Perfection is the word that continually springs to mind, as a ridiculously talented cast make the songs sound like they’ve just been written. Alfie Boe delivers a performance befitting a great tenor and makes the spine tingle with Bring him home. An added bonus for the audience was an appearance by the original London cast led by Michael Ball and Colm Wilkinson. They joined the players in a reprise of the show’s biggest songs and were followed on stage by the creatives and producer Cameron Macintosh. It was an amazing performance and wish I’d been there to witness it in person.
Author: Victor Hugo
Book: Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Trevor Nunn, John Caird and Jams Fenton.
Music: Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics: Herbert Kretzmer (English), Alain Boublil and Jean–Marc Natel (French)
Director: Nick Morris
Musical Supervisor: Stephen Brooker
Producers: Cameron Macintosh/Universal Pictures