Attending a press night for London’s longest running musical felt rather remarkable. In a year when theatreland has barely stopped talking about Les Misérables; I, and a packed Queens Theatre, settled down for the re-opening of the show at it’s London home.
Most of us will have seen the 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2 Arena, whether the filmed version or in person last year, and it truly was spectacular. When I heard that Alfie Boe and Matt Lucas were to join a new cast in the West End, I leapt at the opportunity to be at press night.
The production had closed last Saturday to facilitate the redevelopment of the orchestra pit, the introduction of the 25th Anniversary orchestrations and the arrival of a major new cast.
The weaker parts of the show, particularly those in the score, have been tightened up and revitalised, and the show in every way bursts onto the stage even more powerfully than before.
Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean is mind-blowing. Rarely is a star found who can sing so beautifully, and act absolutely convincingly. His rendition of ‘Bring Him Home’ was as close to theatrical and musical perfection as I have ever witnessed, and was worth the ticket price alone. His performance is spectacular, and by far the strongest male performance in a musical I have ever seen; the man is utterly incredible.
Joining Boe onstage is Matt Lucas (of Little Britain fame) as Thénardier; a part that feels as if it has been created for him. He encapsulates the scheming and manipulative ‘Master of the House’, and his occasional asides are hysterical comic relief. His vocal performance is convincing, and his chemistry with Katy Secombe is a joy to behold. The audience practically yelped their appreciation for the pantomimic villains. Lucas is perfect for the part, and it really is very special to see him up-close in this production. He is so clearly loving it, and his energy carries the audience from scene to scene.
Hadley Fraser is fantastic as Javert, ably filling the shoes of Norm Lewis who finished his run last week.
Caroline Sheen takes the part of Fantine and utterly nails ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. Her acting, however, does occasionally falter; she appears slightly too old for the character in her first entrance, and her death is a little over-played. That said, she is one of the most endearing Fantines that I’ve seen, and sounds beautiful alongside Boe in ‘Come To Me’.
The children, roles that can feel novel, are simply magical. Craig Mather as Marius and Liam Tamne as Enjolras are excellent; utterly moving and convincing, joining an indescribably powerful ensemble. Even Cosette, a part that arguably is a little shrill and grating, is performed with grace by Lisa-Anne Wood.
The only weak performance is Alexia Khadime as Eponine, a notoriously hard part to get right. Although she sings ‘On My Own’ with great feeling, it’s all a little tinny and ‘poppy’. Perhaps she could get away with this style in Wicked, but it simply isn’t good enough amongst the serious classical performers in this company of Les Mis.
Theatrically speaking the show has lost none of its power and spectacle, and the set feels as revolutionary today as it must have done in 1985. Last night Les Mis made very clear that it isn’t going anywhere, it isn’t old or flat; it is a glorious theatrical tour-de-force, and with this new cast it feels more powerful than ever.
This may be the strongest company for the show yet. If you can get a ticket before the end of Lucas and Boe’s run (which will be quite a challenge – make sure you check their schedules) then do, because there is not a better night of musical theatre in the West End.
Les Misérables will be triumphantly playing for many years to come. I will never forget the experience of being on the front row last night. Go and see this cast, pay anything to get a ticket, and take me with you!