I saw Les Misérables a few years ago and as a musical theatre lover I assumed that I would adore this classic, which had been running on the West End for decades already and didn't seem ready to leave any time soon. I was wrong. Knowing little about the story before entering the auditorium and sat in the previous to last row in the upper circle of the theatre with a non-stop talking French couple just behind us (who clearly didn't know the meaning of the death stare in an otherwise quiet theatre and the occasional 'ssshhhh' directed at them), it was hard to follow the story, keep the characters apart, and generally stay awake for its nearly three hour long duration.
There are other classic musicals I didn't enjoy (The Phantom of the Opera and Cats, for example) and I put Les Mis in that same category of 'just not for me'. Fast-forward a few years to 2012, and an all-star movie adaptation hits the big screen. I gave the story one last try and I instantly fell head over heels in love with everything; from the characters and incredible music to, yes, Aaron Tveit (hot damn, Enroljas!). I ended up seeing the film in cinema twice (once in Imax, which was insanely immersive) and more times than I can count at home. Needless to say I was super keen to watch the stage version again and I recently got that opportunity...
Many thanks to Box Office Tickets for organising my visit to Les Misérables in exchange for an honest review! My full review can be found here on their website, and a shortened version below.
It was an amazing experience to watch the classic novel by Victor Hugo, adapted for the stage by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel (with English libretto by Herbert Kretzmer), live on the stage at the Queen's Theatre! Except for the sequences with the barricades, the set design is actually quite simplistic yet there is an incredible epicness to the whole piece; it feels big, exciting and almost immersive (especially if you can bag a seat in the middle of the stalls), and as an audience member you really do feel like you've been transported to 19th century France as soon as the lights go down.
It was understudy central with substitutes for major roles, yet if I hadn't specifically checked the box office for a list of changes I wouldn't have noticed this at all as the entire cast was incredible. There is an almost operatic singing style that accompanies this musical which leaves absolutely no space for insecure tones without it jarring the whole performance, and not once did the cast on stage break the illusion (non-stop talking tourists in the audience on the other hand... that's a different matter).
With a large cast of leads and an extensive ensemble to boot, it's impossible to give an in-dept review on all performances, but particular stand-outs to me were Peter Lockyer, who commanded the stage with his presence in all his variations of Valjean throughout the years; Adam Pearce, whose Javert actually made me feel sympathetic towards this usually easily despised character; Rachelle Ann Go, who didn't belt as much as Fantine as she did as Gigi in Miss Saigon, but her scenes were equally memorable; and Phil Daniels as Thenardier, who was menacing and comical in equal measures, and really added some balance to a character that could've so easily been one-dimensional.
Also adding an extra dimension to the already electrifying atmosphere is the fact that this is an entirely sung-through musical. This is a risky move as it could easily put the audience off or add confusion to what is a very complicated story encompassing a lot of different plot lines, but in Les Mis it absolutely works. I could happily listen to the whole cast recording on repeat, but it's the larger, layered pieces, such as Do You Hear the People Sing? and One Day More, that came across particularly well in the intimate setting of live theatre, and it was a thrill to hear the booming harmonies of the entire cast vibrate through the auditorium.
Les Misérables has been running for an incredible 30 years in the West End, first at the Palace Theatre before moving to its current home at the Queen's Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, and for good reason too. There's a captivating journey of courage and heartwarming selflessness at the core of the story, which is endlessly epic and enthralling. There are so many highs and lows for the characters that over the course of the show it genuinely feels as if you are experiencing the joys and heartbreaks of a whole lifetime with these inspiring people, which – interspersed with the moving and memorable music – makes for an exhilarating experience.
Les Misérables is running at the Queens Theatre and currently taking bookings until 1 October 2016. You can book tickets here.