Having seen strong success worldwide over the past thirty years and with no signs of slowing down anytime soon, this Australian production of Les Misérables has strong foundations for the cast and crew to both work with and make their own. Following seasons in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney since 2014, the production has finally arrived for its final Australian leg at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) Lyric Theatre. With the venue having been host to more comical shows these past few months including Anything Goes and Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Les Misérables provides a refreshing change of pace, delivering an experience that is emotive, powerful and, on the odd occasion, very entertaining.
For those who have missed seeing a production of Les Misérables or even its 2012 film adaptation sometime in the past, this is a stage musical adapted from the 1860’s novel by Victor Hugo. Although there are multiple intertwining stories spread throughout a period of many years, this musical tells the story of Jean Valjean. Valjean is an ex-convict who at the start of the musical has earned parole after 19 years of imprisonment for stealing some bread. Struggling to survive due to being tarnished with the stigma associated with holding a yellow ticket-of-leave, he breaks his parole and seeks to make an honest living. While having become successful in the years that followed, his life is further shaped by meetings with a woman named Fantine and her young daughter Cosette. As the years go on, he continues to be hunted down by Inspector Javert (Who considers Valjean little more than an escaped convict) and becomes drawn into the events which take place prior to and following the 1832 Paris Uprising.
With a heavy use of time jumps throughout the musical, it can feel like you are being given only glimpses of much bigger stories which drive the motivations and personalities of each character. Of course, exploring these would likely require more than the already large 2 hour 55 minute runtime to present. This is however just a small nagging issue for a tale which is for the most part captivating and well structured – leading you through the life of Jean Valjean to witness the hardships and small delights that he and the others around him face.
A strong storyline does deserve an equally strong cast to complement it. The Australian cast of Les Misérables managed to meet the demands of their roles well. Simon Gleeson and Hayden Tee in particular shone in the lead roles of Jean Valjean and Javert respectively. Patrice Tipoki (Fantine) managed to sing my companion to tears with her emotional performance of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, while Kerrie Anne Greenland as Éponine also shone throughout the show. Although their characters always had a bit more emphasis on entertaining the audiences through comic relief, Trevor Ashley and Lara Mulcahy provided a lot of personality and general entertainment with their roles as Thénardier and Madme Thénardier.
The adult cast is strong across the board (both main and ensemble), however special mention must be given to the children who take on the roles of Gavroche, Young Cosette and Young Éponine. Having seen the show twice now, in addition to a media call which also featured Gavroche, the performances of these children have simply astounded me. I could see some of them being future stars of musical theatre.
Completely the opposite from the sparkles and giant disco ball which adorned the QPAC Lyric Theatre only a month ago, Les Misérables features costuming and set design which suits both the time period and more sombre setting as well. The costuming was spectacular overall, giving a sense you were looking at people from the era on-stage. Cast members, especially those in the ensemble, routinely changed apparel and hairstyles to fit in with new roles, while some main characters also received noticeable overhauls on occasions to represent aging as time progressed. Successfully immersing at least myself in the world unfolding before my eyes, the set of Les Misérables proved to be quite adaptable, successfully taking advantage of visual tricks, animated backdrops, props and constructions to provide a more authentic looking experience.
Both times I went to see this show, the cast earned a standing ovation from almost every person in the stalls – with much clapping and cheering being made throughout the sizable crowd. With memorable songs, an strong storyline and a cast with powerful vocal and acting skills – I found it difficult to not get drawn into this emotional and stimulating tale. Thirty years on and the Australian cast and crew of Les Misérables have proven there is still plenty of fight left in this musical theatre great!
Les Misérables is currently being performed at the QPAC Lyric Theatre until January 17 2016. This is the last leg of the show’s Australian tour, with cast members including Simon Gleeson, Hayden Tee and Patrice Tipoki to take on their roles in productions around the world.