My first visit to Les Miserables. And probably not my last.
A little cliched perhaps, but I was impressed from the off. The Queen's Theatre is situated about halfway down Shaftesbury Avenue, in the heart of London's West End - just about the perfect location for the second-longest running musical in the world. Surprisingly, for a Wednesday matinee, the house was full; indeed the queues snaked around the adjacent streets beforehand and it took us a while to finally be seated and settled. About three and a half hours later whilst walking out, I could completely understand why.
I was also lucky enough to witness a full cast on, with no covers. This current 2012/2013 ensemble had been going exactly five weeks when I saw it and it has certainly not taken the new cast members long to hit their straps.
Geronimo Rauch plays Jean Valjean after a lengthy run in the Spanish production. I expected great things after having heard Alfie Boe and Ramin Karimloo sing this part very well; I was not disappointed. His belt was incredible in his bigger numbers and the way he controlled his breathing and diction was astounding considering English is not his first language. He conveyed the emotion of the part particularly well and I found his scenes with Young Cosette particularly touching. His Bring Him Home is up there with the best of them too, although my favourite song of his was probably Who Am I, which got a massive cheer.
Tam Mutu is Javert and for me just about steals the show. I don't honestly know how anyone could have played that part any different, or any better. His emotional rollercoaster is certainly one for the audience as well and his death scene was as tragic as was necessary, but I thought executed very well (indeed perhaps the best 'death' I've seen on a stage). The pain of his moral trouble showed on his face right until the moment the light stopped shining on him, and as for his voice, well let's just say I fully understand how he managed to play the Phantom in Love Never Dies. Every time he sang was spine tingling.
Sierra Boggess plays Fantine. I thought she gave a good performance; I was thoroughly convinced by her acting and her death scene with Valjean was mesmeric - I couldn't bring myself to look away. I was only a little disappointed by her vocal in I Dreamed A Dream; she sang well but I thought there were moments where she was uncomfortable, in the higher and lower registers in particular. There were also times where I felt she could really have let go and gone for it a little more with her belt; but she brought individuality to the song at least.
Danielle Hope did not disappoint as Eponine either. Crystal clear, innocent vocals and her expressions made her character extremely likeable and understandable. Her death scene was very well handled and her 'nearly' relationship with Marius was believable, to the extent I began to feel extremely sorry for her every time he chased after Cosette! She couldn't really be further from Dorothy and the yellow brick road but her talent really shines through and I am glad she's started making a great name for herself (and in Les Mis of all shows).
Cameron Blakely and Katy Secombe are utterly brilliant as the devilish Thernardiers. If you want to know the definition of on-stage chemistry, they must surely be it. Classic comic timing where necessary and a perfect understanding of each other, next to a perfect vocal blend - they might as well be real-life husband and wife! It is of course as much down to the script as anything, but they provide just enough comic relief at the right times to ensure you are not too caught up or overwhelmed by the more tragic parts of the show. A pleasure to watch the pair of them. I kept thinking what a great Fagin Cameron would make; the make-up helps, if you see you'll know what I mean.
Samantha Dorsey plays Cosette, and especially as this is her first West End role, she was astounding. Fantastic vocal blend with Valjean and Marius towards the end; and her relationship with Valjean as it developed in Act 2 was tear-jearking. She was the one character on stage I was drawn towards in Valjean's death scene which tells you something; again, she seemed another one of those actors with clear, commanding and natural stage presence.
Liam Tamne as Enjolras was brilliant; again another part I can't really imagine having been played any other way. Crystal clear vocals and he was an obvious leader of the students and whilst on the barricades, probably as much down to his commanding physical presence as anything. The relationships between him and the others were strikingly believable and this made the deaths on the barricades even more tragic. I could have watched him all day; I reckon he's one to look out for in the future.
Craig Mather as Marius was an interesting one. The general consensus from regular Les Mis fans is that he is great and I can't really fault him in terms of fluffing lines or singing bad notes. I just never really warmed to him; there was nothing outstanding that made me glad Valjean had rescued him nor was I blown away by his vocal. Again, he did nothing wrong but unlike most of the other leads, there was no real "wow" moment for me. That said, his chemistry with Danielle Hope and Samantha Dorsey was believable and he handled Eponine's death well.
Special mention to the rest of the fantastic ensemble, and it is perhaps wrong to single out too many individuals, nor is there space. The group numbers of One Day More, Do You Hear the People Sing and Master of the House were real spine-tinglers. The sound created was incredible. But that said, particular stand-outs were Adam Linstead who was instantly recognisable in all of his parts and a fantastic consistently drunk Grantaire! Also to James Winter as Claquesous who was both menacing and scarily convincing as the 'pimp' and as a member of the Thernadiers' gang. A far cry from his wonderfully shy and understated Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys.
So there you have it. I left the Queen's rather wishing I could go back in and book for the evening show. At nearly three hours it's perhaps not for the easily distracted but that said, it is extremely engrossing. I recommend it to the stout theatre-goer (if they haven't seen it) or a novice first-timer. The performances, as discussed, are brilliant. If I were to go again, I'd like to perhaps see a few covers on and be able to compare notes. I'm sure they'd take the show up to the same high level.
In the meantime, I'd best be off to search for a new set of adjectives for any more reviews...
At this performance, the cast was:
Geronimo Rauch (Jean Valjean), Tam Mutu (Javert), Sierra Boggess (Fantine), Danielle Hope (Eponine), Cameron Blakely (Thernardier), Katy Secombe (Mme Thernardier), Samantha Dorsey (Cosette), Liam Tamne (Enjolras), Craig Mather (Marius), AJ Callaghan (Old Woman), Mary Cormack (Crone), Andy Coxon (Montparnasse), Shaun Dalton (Foreman/Brujon), Dayle Hodge (Jean Provoire), Chris Holland (Courfeyrac), Sarah Lark (Whore), Adam Linstead (Bishop/Grantaire), Carl Mullaney (Bamatabois), Helen Owen (Whore), Jonny Purchase (Joly), Oliver Saville (Feuilly), Michael Storrs (Lesgles), Phoebe Street (Whore), Nicky Swift (Madame), Robert Vickers (Combeferre), James Winter (Claquesous), Tommy Rodger (Gavroche), Ashley Goldberg (Young Cosette), Georgia Pemberton (Young Eponine)
Also in the cast are James Charlton, Rhidian Marc, George Miller, Sarah O'Connor, Emma Westhead, Anya Evans, Christina Fray, Isabelle Methven, Madeleine Haynes, Ella Owens, Marcus Billany and Jack Costello.