Review by: Paul Towers, 27/01/16
Les Miserables by Alain Boublil & Claude-Michel Schonberg
Cameron Mackintosh Production
The Queens Theatre, London ongoing
For over 18 years Les Mis, as it is fondly called, was a landmark at the Palace Theatre in Cambridge Circus. The face of an urchin girl stared down upon the bustling crowds who passed through the intersection en route to the whole of London’s West End. Then in 2004 the production had to find a new home and it has been in Shaftsbury Avenue’s Queens Theatre ever since. Last year it celebrated 30 years with a big spectacular Hollywood film. But tonight I was finally getting to see what has kept this iconic show going for all those years. The stage musical.
As the audience files into the beautifully restored traditional auditorium we are greeted by that iconic picture of Cosette seen on a thousand buses and underground billboards. As the lights dim her face is swathed in smoke and we see Jean Valjean working out his last days on the chain gang under the watchful eye of his sworn enemy Javert. The scene is set for a battle between the two that will last more than 17 years.
The production makes great and creative use of the theatre’s huge revolving stage. Not only are sets turned into sight but chases are excitingly enacted. In addition there are two huge sets that are wheeled on from the wings and create the street buildings and the eponymous barricade.
This is a huge cast playing vocally demanding roles so it is no surprise that many of the lead characters were not the main cast on a midweek matinee. But, as this is a production that relies on talented singers rather than star names, this mattered not a jot.
The heartbreaking depiction of early nineteenth century French poverty is enlivened by the comic turns of M & Mme Thenadier, the innkeeper and his wife, but even they are without scruples or morals when it comes to trying to earn a few francs.
Les Miserables is chock full of hummable songs, most recently I Dreamed A Dream. Fortunately the producers have resisted the temptation to build a SuBo moment into the show and, while Fantine’s rendition is superb, it does not elicit any unseemly reaction aside from a well deserved ovation at its conclusion.
Les Miserables has been running in London’s West End for 30 years and has since opened internationally and has become the longest running musical in the world. Ever. I wouldn’t be surprised if it runs for another 30 years. And another