Les Misérables, Barbican Theatre, London
Monday 27 September 2010
There are ghosts and survivor's guilt in the second act of Les Misérables that sound like a trailer for the upcoming stage adaptation of Birdsong; Victor Hugo's Marius (played by pop idol Gareth Gates) comes through the carnage on the Paris barricades and sings of empty chairs and tables in the ABC café while his friends materialise in a celestial, supportive chorus.
This scene is simply decorated in tea lights as the show gathers to its still overwhelming climax, and Jean Valjean completes his spiritual journey from thief and galley slave to heroic saviour, assigning his adoptive daughter Cosette to Marius: "Bring Him Home", sung by John Owen-Jones in a riveting high tenor voice, is one of the great emotional highlights of 20th-century musical theatre.
On the very stage where the world's longest-running musical opened under the aegis of the RSC 25 years ago, Les Misérables has lost none of its power, sweep or sentimental brutality in this spirited touring version derived from the famous original production by Trevor Nunn and John Caird.
Claude-Michel Schönberg's music may lack the complexity and harmonic richness of Lloyd Webber and Sondheim, but it packs an almighty punch, and brings audiences to their feet every night of the year all over the world: the show has been seen by over 56 million people and sung in 21 languages.
There was talk of this being "Les Miz-lite". It's no such thing, though John Napier's designs have been modified, with some effective projections of Victor Hugo paintings and a much less imposing barricade. But there's a sumptuous new lighting design by Paule Constable, and an array of super-charged performances, from Earl Carpenter as the demonic police chief Javert, Madalena Alberto as the factory waif Fantine and Jon Robyns as a rabble-rousing Enjolras.
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