Do you hear the people sing?
By Nicole-Marie Ng
The company performing “One Day More”, the closing song of Act 1. (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
After a successful first run in France, the first English production of Les Misérables produced by Cameron Mackintosh opened at the Barbican Arts Centre in London on Sep 28, 1985.
A day later, British press ran the headline, “What can be worse than a bad musical? A French musical.”
Little did that English daily know that “Les Misérables” would become the longest-running musical on West End and Broadway.
Turning a 1,500-page novel into a three-hour musical
Simon Gleeson as Jean Valjean before he decides to change his ways and make a new life for himself. (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
“Les Misérables” was first published by French historical novelist Victor Hugo in 1862, and it is widely considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century.
The story follows Jean Valjean, an ex-convict on the run who tries to turn his life around. The main antagonist, Javert, a man of justice and righteousness, is set to convict Valjean once more for breaking his parole.
Beyond that, the story of “Les Misérables“ is one of love, politics and good versus evil.
Growing up, all French students were required to read the novel but only Alain Boublil was inspired to create a musical after watching a performance of “Oliver!” in London. With the help of French composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, they took a total of one and a half years to turn chapters of Hugo’s novel into songs.
The new production
Musical theatre veteran, Earl Carpenter, plays Inspector Javert. (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench)
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of “Les Misérables”, Cameron Mackintosh created a new production of the hit musical five years ago.
Nick Allott, the Managing Director of Cameron Mackintosh said that the new production gives the story more clarity through its visual production and follows a more cinematic style. They also sought the advice of a younger creative team to make the musical more visually striking.
The new production does not feature the iconic turntable stage, but musical theatre buffs can still catch the original production, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary, in London.
An incredible cast
Kerry Anne Greenland’s moving portrayal of Eponine will leave you in tears. (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
Playing the iconic role of Jean Valjean is Simon Gleeson, who won the prestigious Helpmann Award for his portrayal.
Gleeson is such a great actor that he was told by his daughter, who was six at the time, that he could no longer rehearse at home. He later found out this was because she would go to her room and cry. “She thought that I wasn’t happy and that I was in pain. She couldn’t comprehend what was going on.”
Starring alongside him as Javert is veteran actor, Earl Carpenter. Carpenter has played the Phantom in the 25th anniversary UK Tour of “The Phantom of the Opera” and is fresh from his performance as Javert in the Broadway company of “Les Misérables”.
When asked how he prepares for his solo performances, Carpenter credits everything to the music. “The amazing orchestration from Claude-Michel and everything that’s been constructed musically is part of our ammunition for the evening.”
A common criticism the actors of this company face is that the largely Australian cast is inferior to the companies on Broadway and West End.
To that, Paul Wilkins, who plays Marius, had this to say, “I came from the UK cast of “Les Misérables” at the Queen’s Theatre, and to join these guys, it’s like nothing else. There are fewer opportunities in Australia because it’s mostly touring theatres, and I believe that there’s a lot more passion coming from the Australians because they have to work a lot harder to get to where they are.”
Emily Langridge, who plays Cosette, responded with, “When they come see the show, we’ll prove ourselves then!”
After watching the premiere of “Les Misérables”, here’s what we have to say, “If you’re looking forward to being entertained, this is the musical for you. Besides having stellar voices, the cast also delivered emotionally-charged and endearing performances; special mention goes to Earl Carpenter’s relentless Inspector Javert and Kerry Anne Greenland’s heartbreaking Eponine.
Hardly a step out of beat, the orchestra was instrumental in transporting us away to the world of the French Revolution, and the detailed set provided a beautiful and realistic backdrop for a moving story.”
Cameron Mackintosh’s “Les Misérables” now playing at the Esplanade Theatre till Jul 24. Tickets available from Sistic.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of Weekender, Issue 154, June 10 – June 23, 2016, with the headline ‘Do you hear the people sing?’.