Did you hear the people sing? I definitely did.
I was excited to finally be able to watch Les Misérables. After all, I had heard so much about it, since it is one of the longest running musicals on Broadway. Walking into the Esplanade theatre, I was curious to see how they were going to bring nineteenth-century France to life, especially with the Esplanade’s relatively small stage.
As I entered the theatre, I immediately noticed how the stage had already set the tone for the show with remarkable props of dilapidated buildings set up on each side. As the three hour musical progressed, all earlier worries that the Esplanade stage was too modest for such an acclaimed production completely vanished.
Every inch of the stage was well utilised. The screen hanging all the way at the back constantly had different locations and scenes projected on it. The transitions between scenes were incredibly smooth, and the timing of the lighting and placement of each character was impeccable. The audience was hardly aware of the changing sets in the background, so each time a new act began, it was as if it had appeared like magic.
The musical begins with the criminals aboard the ship, where we first see the man whom we recognize as Jean Valjean (Simon Gleeson). His opening solo is intense and powerful, and encapsulates his entire character right from the start.
There is a memorable albeit brief scene when Valjean decides to turn his life around after he is given a second chance by the Bishop of Digne (Matt Harrop). It is a touching scene that eventually sees him helping his worker, Fantine. The musical then charts the progress of his new life, where he raises Fantine’s daughter, Cosette.
Gleeson and Patrice Tipoki, who plays Fantine, commanded the stage with their solo performances. Each time they appeared to sing favourites such as I Dreamed a Dream, their raw and powerful vocals sent chills down my spine.
The climax of the musical had to be the dramatic battle between the student revolutionaries and the army. On a stage stacked high with an impressive barricade, the scene was exciting and dramatic and at some points, even startled the audience with its ringing gunshots and explosions.
During major scenes with more than twenty actors – a predominantly Australian cast – on stage each time, the voices of the ensemble melded together beautifully.
Another stand-out act was the scene in the Thénardiers (Cosette’s guardians) inn. The brilliant acting of the cast nailed the funny and lively moments of the performance, which lightened the mood just enough for me to mentally prepare myself for the tragedies I knew were coming up.
The musical is not complete without the tragic love triangle between Eponine, a street urchin, Marius, a student revolutionary, and Cosette. The battle between the student revolutionaries and the army ends in tragedy, leaving Marius as the sole survivor. Valjean saves him during the battle and reunites him with Cosette, whom he eventually marries.
As I left the theatre slightly teary-eyed and wishing I could watch the musical once over, I finally understood exactly why this musical has been so well-received worldwide.
A fast-paced and emotionally-charged extravaganza right from the start, Les Misérables takes the audience on an eventful journey through nineteenth-century France with powerful performances from the cast that will set everyone on the edge of their seats.
Les Misérables runs till July 24. Head here for more information.
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