Friday, October 10, 2014

REVIEW: Les Miserables (Australia)

Her Majesty's Theatre (Melbourne), Saturday October 4

I can’t even remember when I saw the original production; it must be more than 20 years ago. Since then, tons of audio and video recordings have been released and even a movie was made. When it comes to the stage version however, the one defining design of the original production was the rotating stage. While this is not a modern innovation, it definitely aided the extensive narrative of the Victor Hugo novel. What attracted me to this performance at the Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne is the fact that it is a new production.

Cameron Mackintosh has tried to update and downsize original productions for them to be tour-friendly before. I have seen a new Miss Saigon (2007 in Melbourne) and The Phantom of the Opera (2012 in Cardiff) before and they tend not to measure up to the original one. This new production of Les Miserables, however, came the closest. While the rotating stage is gone, this new production managed to remain clear, concise and charismatic due to its effective stage directions (Laurence Connor & James Powell) and exact lighting design (Paule Constable). The set (Matt Kinley) was simple but it provided enough depth and texture to compliment the atmosphere and context that was achieved by projections (Matt Kinley), that were inspired by Victor Hugo’s own drawings.

My biggest disappointment is the performance. YES! Some of the performances were ghastly. Simon Gleeson’s Jean Valjean heads the list. Gleeson was a very effective actor but he took his acting to a level where he forgot to sing. At the end of the day, this is a musical. Unless the role is the King in The King and I or Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, I would rather hear the songs sung. Alternating lines of melody with heavy and grunting oration doesn’t do it for me. Trevor Ashley’s Thenardier was all acting and growling. The lovebirds in Emily Langridge’s Cosette and Euan Doidge’s Marius must be the most painful to watch in the production. They sounded like high school kids in high school productions, lacking in depth of understanding and emotion to their roles. While their young sound may just suit the actual age that they were portraying, it didn't do any good to the gorgeous music that was assigned to them.

It was not all bad. Hayden Tee’s Javert was very effective. He acted through his wonderful singing and managed to communicate his sentiments and dilemma with clarity. Lara Mulcahy’s Madame Thenardier was absolutely perfect! No BUT. Chris Durling and Patrice Tipoki were both vocally and dramatically ample as Enjolras and Fantine respectively. Kerrie Ann Greenland’s Eponine was fierce. She infused the role with a distinct ghetto feel that I thought that she would start rapping anytime soon. I don’t mind that. In fact, I actually find that quite refreshing. Her singing was not pretty, but the roughness went well with the character.



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