2019 has been an interesting year for Les Misérables. The BBC aired a fairly decent take on the epic story in a mini series. August 012 gave a very different take with their own production, a weird mix of Brexit mirroring the Battle of Waterloo. The musical in London has run for 35 years, with a concert version with big names also getting a cinema airing as well. How could we possibly escape it?
Cardiff saw the world premiere of this production back in 2009, and it is a staging which has gone from strength to strength. It’s big and bold, yet works well for touring. The powerhouse of Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer (Cameron Mackintosh producing, of course) struck gold with a show which has proved so popular that it is always running.
Having said this, it’s not without its flaws. Most of the famous songs are from the first part of the night.
The Wagnerian first act is very long, there was little of an interval and it also ended pretty late. I dare ask whether a 7pm start would not be too much of a stretch?
The pull of this huge musical are the songs, which it seems only ever grow in popularity as the years go by.
The Victor Hugo book itself, is the size of a bible and, of course, not all of it can feature on stage. So there is little time for introducing the characters, as we are just sort of shown them and off we go. There is a lot of material to get through after all.
The sets here are drab, perfect for the era and mood of the whole show. The lighting is also masterful, a staggering 518 cues feature throughout (my programme told me so). Perhaps the light work is best in the stoplights, mimicking the impact of the bullets aimed towards our poor band of revolutionaries. A jaw dropping 1,782 items of clothing are what the costume department have to look after, a staggering figure by anyone’s standards. The video work is also a great addition to this new version.
There is a great cast here totally suited to their roles. Dean Chisnall makes great work of Jean Valjean, the central character that the show is best remembered for. He makes easy work of the recognisable ballads and is very convincing in the honourable role. Javert is played by Nic Greenshields, a giant of a figure and a personality to match it. I did detect a slight warble one of the songs in it’s higher notes. Yet that aside, he was superb in the role. Katie Hall made a ravishing Fantine, her start of ‘I dreamed a dream’ started very hushed and solemn, as it should be. She appeared angelic at the finale, returning as a spirit to bring Jean to the next life.
Felix Mosse is a button of a Marius, charming and adorable in the loved-up role. A slight loss of the vocal line in one of the recitative moments in the final scene was noticed, but such is the delight of his performance it is instantly forgiven. Charlie Burn as the older Cosette makes for fine listening in the character, who the whole show seems to rest on (Jean’s care for her and Marius’ love for her). Frances Mayli McCann plays Éponine and her signature song is savoured by us all. Her being friend-zoned by Marius is sad and real.
The show-stealing Madame and Monsieur Thénardier here played by Helen Walsh and Ian Hughes, adding some needed comic relief to a mostly dower time. Their knees-up song Master of the House is an utter ear worm which won’t leave you.
Barnaby Hughes was also a stirring Enjolras, spurring the students on to the barricades in the show’s most memorial scene.
Though it has it’s moments, I’m going to go out there and say I prefer Miss Saigon, the creators’ later success. Don’t hate me.
Les Misérables continues at the Wales Millennium Centre till 4th January 2020, with limited availability.