I first heard the music of Les Misérables when I was 12 years old. An obsession was born, and for the last seven years I have used every shower time as an opportunity to perfect my own one woman show- (coming soon to a theatre near you.) I'm kidding. But seriously, I love it. Just a bit of context for you.
I arrived in London on April 6th, eagerly awaiting 2.30pm - the start of the matinee performance of Les Misérables at Queen's Theatre on the legendary Shaftesbury Avenue. I was expecting to be amazed, and I was not disappointed.
The cast, the orchestra and the venue all lived up to the renowned music and lyrics of the quintessentially French musical, leaving an entire audience standing, cheering - and generally crying - once the performance was over.
Geronimo Rauch gave an incredible performance as the musical's lead, Jean Valjean; singing the audience seamlessly through his character's transition from youth to death. The role is undoubtedly one of the most arduous to undertake, and Rauch did so with skill. He, for me, was the stand out performance of the show, although Tam Mutu as Valjean's nemesis Javert, and Celinde Schoenmaker as the troubled Fantine also gave excellent performances. Schoenmaker's rendition of I dreamed a dream was heart-wrenching, and was a stand-out moment of the show.
The role of Éponine was played by Danielle Hope, who previously won the part of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz via Andrew Lloyd Webber's TV show Over the Rainbow. Hope gave an excellent portrayal of the heart-broken character, whose solo song On my own is- yep, you guessed it- a tear jerker. It's not called miserable for nothing...
But, it's not all misery from start to finish, there's a welcomed relief in the form of comedy crooks, the Thénardiers. Monsieur and Madame Thénardier wear strange wigs and sing garishly in the midst of a whole lot of despair, giving the audience a laugh pretty much every time we see them. They were brilliantly played by Cameron Blakely and Vicky Entwistle- the latter you may recognise as Janice Battersby from Coronation Street. I was surprised to find that I forgot all about Janice in 5 seconds flat, as Vicky gave a hilarious performance, and can really sing. She was wasted on the cobbles.
The romantic love story of the show is between revolutionary Marius and Jean Valjean's adopted daughter Cosette. The roles were played by Jamie Ward and Samantha Dorsey, who both succeeded in making the audience believe that they were completely in love- much to the dismay of Éponine. The trio's song A heart full of love was performed beautifully, helped by a cleverly revolving stage to show the unlucky-in-love Éponine watching from behind a gate as her two fellow performers sing about how much they love each other- and very nicely, too.
Another cast member to give an inspiring performance was Christopher Jacobsen as leading revolutionary Enjolras. The character's singing parts are some of the most challenging of the whole show and Jacobsen took them on with ease, encapsulating the spirit of the great leader that Les Mis novelist Victor Hugo originally created. Enjolras' final appearance on stage is another one which requires a tissue or ten.
The entire principle cast and ensemble made the story, music and lyrics of Boubil, Schönberg and Kretzmer come to life before my eyes in a way that cannot be replicated by watching on screen. Minimal scenery was used; the music and vocals were all that was necessary to transport the audience to 19th century France. Queen's theatre has an intimate feel to it, and this added to the realism of the production. All in all, the venue was perfect in allowing the orchestra's sound and the performer's voices to fill the auditorium from the stalls to the upper circle.
My only criticism of the performance is that it had to end. I was mesmerised from start to finish -minus the ice cream break, obviously- and cannot recommend this musical enough to anyone considering buying a ticket. BUY THE TICKET. You won't regret it, I promise.
As I was leaving the theatre I overheard one woman tell another that this was the third time she had seen Les Misérables on stage. Having seen it the once I can understand why. I may be fully dosed up on lovely sounding despair for now, but I'm sure that it won't be too long before I'm back in London waiting for the curtain to draw up again.