Monday, 19 October 2015

Les Miserables 30th Birthday Gala

On the 8th October 1985, Les Miserables was performed for the first time at the Barbican, London. 30 years on a special gala performance was staged and I was privileged to be there..
"Do you hear the people sing?" For thirty years audiences have been mesmerised by a musical that has captured the imaginations of audiences around the globe. Over 51000 performances in 44 countries and 347 cities with 70 million people having experienced the phenomenon that is Les Miserables. Les Miserables success isn't just down to one simple formulae but the breathtaking musical score is certainly central to its success. Yet no one could have imagined that we would be celebrating the musicals 30th year and still selling out performances with appreciative audiences. After the success of the 25th Birthday celebration at the o2 it was going to be a mammoth task to devise something truly fitting for three decades of "The Glums". As I approached the Queens Theatre and saw the birthday banners and queues of people there was an air of expectation, something wonderful was about to occur. Indeed we were about to receive an evening of true Musical Theatre magic.

The Queens Theatre, London

As soon as I got into the foyer of the magnificent Queens theatre, no one in the world has theatres quite like those in the West End, there was a buzz that I had never experienced before. Celebrities of stage and screen were all mixing in as the show was the star tonight. Once into the auditorium it was obvious that this was going to be a performance like no other. All the cast where going to be giving there all and as the house lights dimmed a huge roar of appreciation erupted from the audience. What followed was a full performance of Les Miserables with a promised finale at the close befitting of a 30th Birthday party. As the anthemic orchestrations begin for "Look Down" a shiver ran down my spine as it had when I heard the now familiar strings 30 years ago. Carrie Hope Fletcher (Eponine) has amazed audiences with her powerful and emotional performances and Rachel Anne Go had long been admired for her performance as Gigi in Miss Saigon. To see her play Fantine was going to be an experience I would not forget in addition to enjoying the great Phil Daniels as Thenardier. 

One More Day

As the final notes of "One Day More" die away and the interval beckons it is clear why Les Miserables is such an overwhelming success. The staging is deliberately sparse and centre stage is given to some of the most striking acting and vocalisation in modern theatre today. You really do feel the anger of Valjean and the pain and horror that Fantine endures. Every note is loaded with emotion and passion, every musical phrase sung with belief and conviction. The cold and steely conviction that Javert shows in hunting down the criminal he perceives Valjean to be has never felt more real than during "Stars". Here to is the morally righteous but doomed passion of the students who man the barricade and is brilliantly sung during "Red and Black" and "Do You Hear The People Sing". There are tender moments as Marius falls in love with Cosette and as their love deepens so does the despair of unrequited love that Eponine feels. Phil Daniels, not known for his particular vocal prowess, excels as the villainous Thenardier. For me, the character is key and Daniel's is utterly believable as the opportunist, thieving inn keeper. 

Thenardier joins the party

As the second half gets underway we move closer to Valjeans signature moment. The musically stunning "Bring Him Home" and Peter Lockyer does not disappoint. The plea heavenward for God to spare Marius's life is expertly delivered, although no one can sing it quite like Alfie Boe or Colm Wilkinson. As events at the barricade take tragic turn after tragic turn (Eponine's final scenes draw tears from me every single time) The final moments are always going to belong to Enjoras. Let down by the Parisians who "sleep in their beds" his lifeless body draped in the red flag of revolution, hold a poignancy that can really not be equalled. The only nigglesome point for me will always be Valjean's suicide which never quite works on stage. Pretending to flail in slow motion as he mimics the fall to his death, the poor actor is left to kind of roll off stage. It just looks silly!

Enjoras and that red flag

So the curtain falls on the 30th Gala performance and the audience rises as one for a standing ovation. Cameron Mackintosh takes to the stage and announces that the audience are to be treated to champagne as we "drink with me". The birthday celebrations continue with a wonderful video montage and tribute to the shows enduring appeal. As the original cast take to the stage we are given a preview of the, soon to be opened, Welsh version of Les Miserables. The stage is given to Patti LePon (the original Fantine) and Rachel Ann Go with Carrie Hope Fletcher and Frances Ruffelle (the original Eponine) with a stunning rendition of I Dreamed a Dream and On My Own. Colm Wilkinson demonstrates he has still an astounding vocal range with a reprise of Bring Him Home, ably assisted by John Owen Jones. As the assembled casts sing the night out with One Day More I am left with the words of Cameron Macintosh himself, "this musical will outlast us all" As we leave the theatre there will not be a single member of the audience who would argue with him. Happy Birthday Les Miserables and raise a glass to the next 30 years!

Les Miserables 30th Gala Performance

Les Miserables appeals to music theatre lovers of all ages and its timeless quality ensures that the production will never grow old. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a West End without its presence. At a time when it is increasingly difficult to develop a show which meets with success it is encouraging to see 30 years of Les Miserables with absolutely no sign of audiences growing tired. Viva La Revolution!

Les Mis poster

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