Well, at the very least I heard Steve sing this morning – my alarm not going off, I was brought startlingly into the bright lights of morning by Steve’s dulcet tones reliving the words of last night, however, he did insert his own name into the Les Mis songs here and there! Oh the vanity!
Last night we went to see Les Miserables at Birmingham Hippodrome. It was my long awaited Christmas present from my lovely boy. I was lucky enough to see the show, many years ago now, two or three times in Manchester and have ever since had to cope with only watching the 10th anniversary concert DVD. It is far and away my favourite of all musicals. Nothing makes me shiver and sob as much as this production and last night completely blew me away. It was by far the best version of the show I have ever seen – and I don’t say that lightly.
From the opening chords I was balanced, literally, on the edge of my seat. Now, this may have had a little to do with being in the very back row – tickets were like gold dust, they sold out so quickly – but I couldn’t have cared less. They could have sat me on the roof of the building so long as I could have peered a little through a sky light, and I still would have come away glowing and unable to shake this feeling of completeness that I now have! I was a little disturbed when I sat down and realised I had failed to pack tissues – I only had two and duly had to donate one to Steve as the moving spectacle before us took its toll.
The key characters were superbly cast, none more so than Jean Valjean himself. John Owen-Jones is on his second sitting of playing the lead male, having been the youngest Valjean to ever grace the stage on his first time round. He is something of a West End legend having also been a spectacle on Broadway. He portrayed a bitterness in the earl scenes that I have never seen accomplished to such a degree before. This made his transformation entirely believable and set the emotional tension from the word go. The passion and emotion he conveyed to the crowd was electric, you could almost reach out and touch it, even from row Y! Below is a You-tube clip from SC4 of his performance of “Bring Him Home”, but sadly he is suited and booted, so you miss out on the deeper levels of emotion that a theatre performance brings. I sobbed like a baby at this last night, and have already shed a few tears watching it this morning – despite it being out of context!
One of the most surprising elements was the portrayal of Marius. It was Gareth Gates! Seriously! I have to admit when Steve told me this, I had a similar reaction to when I found out ‘H’ was playing Joseph, I laughed and expected all my hopes to be destroyed. But similarly to that experience, I was blown away. He was perfect. He sang so beautifully and had just the right amount of ‘wetness’ in the love scenes and a brilliantly emotional sadness and regret during “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”. I am a Pop Idol convert, to some extent, and will from this day not hear a bad word to be said against this fine fellow! Again, my heart broke entirely as he sang with Eponine as she died in his arms – I had entirely forgotten who it was I was watching and at this point could no longer see who I was watching, as the salt water welled uncontrollably in my eyes!
Which brings me to Rosalind James. Eponine is by far my favourite character, partly because she has the task of delivering “On My Own” but also because she is such a strong female role. Cosette, I usually find a bit limp and irritating (which to note, she actually wasn’t last night!) whereas Eponine is almost driven by her sad surroundings, and despite all her heart ache, is strong and determined, and shows the whole world what it is to be a real heroine. Rosalind did not disappoint, far from it, she was excellent. But that word doesn’t seem to have the punch it deserves. Eponine is usually played by a very strong performer, but her’s was something else!
Yes, I am aware how biased I am as this is my favourite, but there is a reason for this. Even though I am highly unlikely to ever attempt the novel of somewhat biblical proportions by Victor Hugo, this story is one that holds all the right keys for me; bitterness and heartache, anguish and sorrow, determination and hope, and a feeling of release. Each of these was beautifully shown including the black and white obsessions of Javert (Earl Carpenter, yet again, superb!), and the disgusting and debauched morals of the Thénardier’s (Ashley Artus and Lynne Wilmot – brilliant!). So many levels and so much greatness.
If I have to put in a complaint, and with that its barely even a whimper, it would have to be for Fantine. She was good, of course, but she did not pack the same punch as previous incarnations of this destitute girl turned prostitute. Her acting was perfect and believable and real, but she just didn’t seem to have the strength in her voice that I have come to expect – although I am spoiled having watched Ruthie Henshall over and over again playing Fantine in the anniversary DVD.
All in all it was an amazing night, true beauty. I understand the touring production is sold out, but if you haven’t had chance to see it, please, get yourself to London, treat yourself. It is an experience that should not be missed. You have tears you need to cry for each and everyone of these wonderful characters. I truly believe your life is not complete without seeing Les Miserables.