At this point I feel like a veteran Les Mis viewer, as it is easily the show I have seen live the most times in my life. However, this time round was different as I would be taking up the responsibility of writing a review afterwards. I found myself paying attention to different parts of the show than usual, watching it with different lenses on. Having seen it so often also allowed me to compare the current staging with previous iterations that worked well, making the entire experience a very exciting prospect.
Jean Valjean breaks his parole from the chain gang and undertakes the burden of fathering an orphaned young girl, Cosette, who he watches grow and get involved with a young man, Marius, while he and his fellow student’s revolt against the current government and the treatment of the poor in mid 1800s France. We get to know many characters throughout, including Javert; ever on the chase for Valjean, and the hilarious Thenardier’s; Inn-keeping thieves who rob anyone they can get their hands on. The show follows a vast spread of characters as they yearn for love, freedom and a better life.
Dean Chisnall’s Valjean is the focal point of the story, the man the audience clings to as we are yanked through the breakneck pace of Les Mis. Chisnall delivers on his job. His portrayal is fiery in the beginning, as a man broken and betrayed by the judicial system of his country yet becomes very soft and warm after his reformation and appointment as monsieur le Mayor. Yet underneath this, Chisnall maintains an animalistic strength whenever faced with Javert, especially in the brilliant confrontation. Even though Javert towers over any character he stands next to, you feel like Valjean could overwhelm him at any moment, showing Chisnall’s deep understanding of the iconic character he has the huge task of playing, doing it to perfection. ‘Bring Him Home’ is the goliath that every actor who takes on Valjean has to face. But with the audience in the palm of his hand and not a dry eye in the room, Chisnall not only defeated his goliath but had him for breakfast too.
Nic Greenshields shines as Javert. His stage presence is second to none (though it helps when someone screams your name with dramatic music right before you make most of your entrances). Greenshields towers over everybody with his stature, helping add a true intimidating feel to our main antagonist. This is also something used to great affect in blocking, allowing for a particularly funny moment with monsieur Thenardier. Javert’s soliloquy was entrancing. Greenshields left his heart and soul on that stage as Javert fails to come to terms with Valjean’s empathy and forgiveness, giving the audience different emotional beats and different levels of grief and confusion unseen before in any production.
Katie Hall’s Fantine has such little stage time yet makes the entire auditorium empathise with her and has them all in tears within the first 12 minutes. ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ was remarkable and had everyone holding back tears by the final crescendo as she screams about her lost childhood and the man that took it from her.
Ian Hughes brought a fantastic interpretation of Thenardier. This character can often feel the most limited or similar upon repeat viewings, but Hughes manages to find every comedic beat and utilise every opportunity to make his Thenardier stand out. His portrayal is so infectious the audience wants him to succeed while also having a bit more stage time…just one more song!
Noah Walton’s Gavroche is possibly the best ever put to stage. His charisma and stage presence for someone of his age was astounding. Every time he opened his mouth you couldn’t wait to hear what he would do with each line. His quality exemplified with the eruption of applause he received during his bows.
Nathania Ong was a brilliant Eponine. Her tomboyish charms were clear to see, and the audience’s hearts broke with her as she watched Marius fall in love with someone else. ‘On My Own’ is the song many hearts yearn to sing, yet Ong’s performance felt like hearing anew.
Paige Blankson had her professional debut with Cosette. The audience would never have been able to tell they weren’t watching an experienced actor as she held her own next to Chisnall’s Valjean and Ong’s Ponine.
Samuel Wyn-Morris’s Enjorlas was inspiring, making viewers want to rise up with him and join the barricade. Will Callan as Marius is charming and strong, the audience laugh at him as he stumbles over his attempts to woo Cosette and pray along with Valjean for him to be safe. Steven Hall’s Grantaire is brilliant. The drunk student who is very close with Gavroche. As he holds Gavroche at the battle of the Barricade the whole audience saw something they’d never seen before as Hall brings a new level to Grantaire, making everyone fully empathise with him.
Directors James Powell and Laurence Connor did a fine job of keeping one through-line connecting every character and event in this grand spectacle of a show that spans decades of time and between 4 different locations in France. The show feels raw yet incredibly polished, somehow surprising even the most seasoned viewer with a new little decision here and there that keep it engaging for all through its massive run time.
Paule Constable’s lighting design is the main reason a viewer who has seen it a thousand times would still be kept engaged and surprised. Her designs during the barricade battle were remarkable, making it feel like every single person was getting shot. A light coming up on Javert for the start of the confrontation, showing he was standing there in the dark the whole time brings a whole new shiver-down-the-spine moment. As Javert plummets to his death the last thing we see is his hand stretching out, lit only by a single beam of light, as if he’s still reaching for that answer he can’t find right before his death. So many little, subtle things made the audience re-think what they thought they already knew about this tale and left an impression, even after the show was over.
Finn Rossand ’59 Projections’ did a great job with their projections, transporting the audience to the sewers of Paris or beaming a beautiful skyline behind Javert’s soliloquy, adding a realism that was not there in previous stagings.
Overall, this production was breathtaking. Les Mis is so vastly well-known and adored everywhere that it is truly hard to make it new or different every time. But with some of the best performances of iconic characters I have seen, incredible lighting design and impressive and effective sets, this production makes it feel fresh, rejuvenated, and very much alive. As the final a cappella chorus blast echoes through the auditorium during the finale you’ll find yourself wanting to jump down and join the cast, marching on until tomorrow comes.