[personal profile] angelofmusic
Musical: Les Miserables
Production: Live via satellite
Theatre: O2 Arena, London
Date: 03/10/2010

Anyone who adores Les Miserables can't have missed the insanity of the weekend of October 1st-3rd. Les Miserables was playing in the Queens Theatre, its current stomping ground. The UK tour had returned to the Barbican, where it all began. And then, on top of all this, the casts of both were pulled into an epic pair of anniversary concerts on Sunday 3rd at the O2 Arena.

The evening concert was beamed live to cinemas all over the UK, which is why I managed to see it without an expensive trip south. Naturally, there were a few minor technical glitches with occasional video transmission flickers and stutters, but for the most part, it was so perfectly done that it really felt as close as possible to actually being there.

Like the 10th Anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall, this was a concert, which meant people singing at specific microphones. However, the scale was absolutely epic. There were three large screens above the stage, above the choir and orchestra. The choir were dressed in in t-shirts the colours of the tricolour, and in sections of blue, white and red.

The main stage was a level down from orchestra/choir, and there were at least 8-10 microphones to the front and about as many available for the costumed chorus who joined the leads at various points, standing upstage.

With performers from the two main companies, as well as various Les Miserables alumni, it was actually good fun trying to pick out performers who you had seen and recognised. As I've seen the show three times in the past two years (once in London and twice on tour), I was spotting familiar faces all over the place.

While I do love the anniversaries, though, I have to admit I miss the action and the interactions. Singing directly into a microphone means that some of the more tense exchanges or even romantic encounters, lose their impact somewhat. I did enjoy it, a lot, but I really love Les Miserables for the drama and the physicality of the thing: climbing the barricades, cradling the dying Fantine, the physical struggles of Valjean and Javert.

But I'm not going to review what wasn't there. I'm going to concentrate on what was.

First off, new orchestrations and an epic backing choir. The orchestrations sent a shiver down my spine from the off, familiar, but just different enough in scale and quality that it was thrilling to hear. Plus, having dozens and dozens of people as backing chorus gives a depth to the music that normal-sized casts can't manage. I can't wait for the DVD to hear it on a better quality sound-system. The cinema is probably good for explosions, but not designed for the intricacies of a score like that.

And now, the cast, in order of appearance:

Alfie Boe as Valjean - his voice was incredible. I do wish I could have seen him on-stage in a full production, because there was such an intensity to him. Valjean is the one who almost always carries the weight of the show, and Boe really lived up to that. Perhaps it was the energy in the arena, or even just throughout the cast, but with every song, his voice seemed to grow more and more passionate and poignant.

I think it's very telling that the man got a 2-3 minute standing ovation immediately after 'Bring Him Home', and he looked both surprised and overjoyed by it. Slightly hard to stay in character when people are roaring and screaming for you :)

Norm Lewis as Javert - like Boe, Norm Lewis brought an incredibly powerful voice to the ensemble. His Javert had such dignity, all propriety and 'suitable' behaviour. His 'Stars' was both an awed, reverent prayer and at the same time, a intense, proud promise. It made his breakdown and suicide all the more intense, when the stars - his guiding lights - where suddenly turned against him. Unfortunately, stupid audio glitch meant we missed the final few words before the suicide, and came back at the tail end of the gorgeous long note.

Also, one cannot help notice how very broad his shoulders are. I couldn't decide if it was just the Javert uniform or if Mr Lewis is as broad and imposing offscreen too.

Earl Carpenter as the Bishop - I know, I know, one shouldn't focus on characters who appear for all of five minutes, but he really threw me. Last time I heard him, he was committing suicide by jumping off a bridge, after that pesky Valjean foxed him. Trouble was, I didn't recognise his face at once. All I knew was I recognised the voice as one that had yelled at Valjean. Needless to say, my brain was flailing at the mixed messages of RAR!voice being all benevolent at JvJ.

Still, he was a perfect Bishop (who still remains one of my favourite characters in book and show). I know this shouldn't surprise me, as he's a wonderful actor, but in the brief moments he was at the microphone, he projected a character of such warmth, gentleness and honour that you could understand Valjean's guilt at betraying him. (And again, glorious voice. This cast seemed to be especially about spine-meltingly good vocals)

Lea Salonga as Fantine - she's grown up since she was Eponine way back at the 10th Anniversary Concert :) She was also utterly heartbreaking. Lea has always had an ability to use her expression in such an understated way to show her emotions, and throughout 'I Dreamed a Dream', her mood changing from wistful, loving memory to suspicion, pain and misery was incredible.

I'm only sad that her demise lost some of its impact because of the lack of props, because I can imagine I would have been bawling my eyes out if Alfie had been cradling her while she sang as poignantly as she did then.

One nice touch, though, was backlighting her as she walked offstage, and her brief, longing backwards look as little Cosette crept past her for 'Castle on a Cloud'.

Matt Lucas as Thenardier - I was honestly not expecting to like him as much as I did. I've never really understood the appeal of Little Britain, and I've only seen him on a few TV shows and films here and there.

But he took Thenardier by the scruff of the neck and loved every minute of it. He was gleeful, he was smarmy, he played the lovable rogue, then the less loveable but still entertaining rogue. And he sang the part fantastically. But above all, he was having fun with it. Combined with Jenny Galloway, they stole the show and broke up all the preceding angst nicely.

Jenny Galloway as Madame Thenardier - Another 10th Anniversary alumni, and still always fun. She knows this role inside out and backwards. She really does adapt her Madame depending on her Thenardier, and works it for the best laughs :) Wonderful fun.

Samantha Barks as Eponine - was absolutely lovely. I'd heard the name before, but I wasn't familiar with her, and she was a wonderful surprise. Her voice is lovely, fresh and young, and she brought a bright-eyed eagerness to the role which was great.

She caught the essence of the wistful, in-love dreamer who is constantly being forced to face reality, too pragmatic to accept that her fantasy might come halfway true. 'On My Own' was both devastating and beautiful, her secret soliloquy, imagining what could be, then crushing her own dreams.

And of course, 'Little Fall of Rain' got me. It kills me every time. They had her clinging on Marius, and I was sniffing quietly into my popcorn.

Nick Jonas as Marius - another piece of casting I was puzzled by, but since Gareth Gates impressed on the tour, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The final Gavroche on Broadway, he's grown up to be an ideal Marius - young, optimistic, full of big dreams and romantic ideals.

While I think he struggled with some of the lower notes, particularly in 'Empty Chairs at Empty Tables', for the most part his vocal performance was very strong. I can't say that he's the best Marius I've ever seen, but he plays a charming, naive and very, very earnest Marius with a clear, strong voice. In a show full of ridiculously good voices, he certainly earned a place.

Katie Hall as Cosette - I saw her on the tour and I adored her for actually managing to play a more determined, strong-willed Cosette. Unfortunately, again, because of being halfway across the stage from Valjean, it made the father-daughter talk lose a lot of the intimacy. Thankfully, they actually let Cosette and Marius face each other, so at least there was some actual romance there ;)

Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras - my, this was a feisty, fierce leader of the students. Many Enjolras I've seen tend to go far into patriotic-leader mode, but Ramin managed to retain the aspects that make you see why people would be both friends of and led by him. Plus, a wonderful voice (again. Are we noticing a theme? :D)

There were others, notably the kidlets, who were fantastic, especially little Gavroche. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a full cast list of all named-characters. I do know Fantine's assailant got cheers for the amount of hamming up he did.

You can tell when a cinema audience is caught up in the live link-up when they spontaneously burst into applause, then just as quickly stop when they remember they're not actually in the arena ;)

And lastly, the finale:

They brought out everyone, all in costume. On the left side of the stage, the current Queens cast: in the centre, the concert cast: to the right, the Barbican cast. And just when the whooping and cheering couldn't get louder, they brought out a fleet of the original cast members. A quartet of Valjeans, led by Colm Wilkinson, did a beautiful, spine-tingling rendition of 'Bring Him Home', and the OLC started an epic sing-along of 'One Day More' as dozens of school productions filed in, West End stars of the future.

There were also some lovely, entertaining speeches by the creatives behind the show. Boubil and Schoenberg are both so charming and wonderful. I hope they got lots of celebration cake and champagne.

All in all, it was more than worth the price of the cinema ticket to see it, and I can't wait for the DVD to be released :)

And just because: A video of the 4 Valjeans from the matinee performance
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