Thursday, 5 November 2020

REVIEW: Les Miserables: The Staged Concert, CD & DVD

In a time when COVID-19 didn’t exist, and we had no idea of the chaos coming our way, the West End was host to the behemoth concert version of the world’s longest running musical, Les Miserables. Whilst the Queen’s (now Sondheim) underwent a huge renovation, Les Mis popped next door to the Gielgud for it’s sell-out 16 week run, with Cameron Mackintosh assembling the crème de la crème of the show’s alumni.

This semi-staged production features a company of over 65, with cast and orchestra sitting on a huge barricade-like structure. At the top of the show, the lighting rigs are floating just above the stage, to then unfold throughout the overture. The combination of lighting, design and automation deliver constant drama, and it really is thrilling to watch.

Alfie Boe returns to the role of Valjean following performances in the West End and Broadway productions. Whilst his classical voice is undeniably impressive, it doesn’t thrill in the same way as that of his musical theatre colleagues. It’s a crying shame that John Owen-Jones is overlooked in this release, especially as he played Valjean for almost fifty percent of performances at the Gielgud due to Boe’s frequent illness. Jones appears on the 2010 cast album, but in this mammoth production and setting, bonus tracks of Valjean’s Soliloquy, Who Am I?, Bring Him Home and One Day More would be most welcome.

Michael Ball makes a brilliant transformation as the menacing Javert, but he plays with musical rhythms and timings so much that it’s often a distraction rather than adding colour. That said, it’s impossible not to enjoy the original Marius, reborn here as the antagonist.

As Marius, Rob Houchen is the perfect male ingénue. These roles are often played in a foppish manner, but Houchen gives the student some guts, and it’s incredibly refreshing. He shows warm chemistry with both Eponine (Shan Ako) and Cosette (Lily Kerhoas); A Heart Full of Love is beautifully sweet and a firm highlight of the first act. Ako delivers some really beautiful moments throughout the show, but her On My Own is far too modern, with jarring riffs that don’t fit the piece.

Carrie Hope Fletcher, the only British actor to have played both young and adult Eponine, returns this time as Fantine, giving a pleasing performance. There are also star turns from Matt Lucas and Katy Secombe as the Thenardiers, and seasoned veteran Earl Carpenter (famous for his Javert all over the world) joins the cast as the Bishop and slimy Bamatbois.

The hero of this piece is Bradley Jaden, who has one of the finest voices of his generation. His Enjolras is terrific, and his command of the company in Red and Black and One Day More is masterful; this is a voice that soars right to the back of the Gods. Prior to this concert, Jaden closed the original production as Javert, becoming the youngest actor in history to play him. The encore of the concert features a duet of Stars, with Michael Ball handing over the famous coat and baton to Jaden, which is a very special moment. We’re then treated to an encore of Bring Him Home sung by John Owen-Jones, Killian Donnelly, Dean Chisnell and Jon Robyns, followed by speeches from Mackintosh and Claude-Michel Schönberg. The finale hurrah is a reprise of One Day More to rapturous applause.

The show really comes to life when the full company takes to the stage. The orchestra, led by Alfonso Casado Trigo never fails to impress, and without the distraction of a revolve or set changes, we’re able to fully appreciate their talents. Now more than ever, deprived theatre lovers need this kind of music and the recent performance on Britain’s Got Talent (currently at 590,000 views on YouTube) is testament to that.

This recording immortalises a truly stunning production, and both CD and DVD are must-haves for anyone who loves theatre.

Review by Ian Marshall

Rating: ★★★★

DVD £12.99 | CD £12.99
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