Review – Les Miserables, Curve Theatre, Leicester, 10th November 2018

Les MiserablesI wouldn’t say the first time we saw Les Miserables that we hated it, but we certainly didn’t get it. It was 1986. We were too young, too wet behind the ears and, frankly, not enough things had gone wrong in our lives to be able to appreciate it. Then, a few years ago, at the suggestion of Mrs Chrisparkle’s boss at the time, we chanced to find ourselves at the Imperial Theatre in New York to see the new high pizazz production that was described as Les Mis for the American Idol Generation.

Killian DonnellyI’d love to be able to put the New York/Leicester production (because they are more or less the same) up against the original 1980s London production and see if and where they differ. I sense that Laurence Connor and James Powell’s version is somehow more in-your-face and no-holds-barred than Trevor Nunn and James Caird’s. Just like when we saw it in New York, this production is outstanding, no two ways about it. Instant ovation, that seemed to go on for hours; great performances, set, musical direction, everything about it is superlative. The cunning projected backdrop that recreates the scenes in the sewers, or makes you think the students are marching towards you, works so well; but no better moment than when Javert falls to his death (oops spoiler alert) and moves from vertical standing up to horizontal splashing down purely by means of optical illusion. It’s absolutely brilliant.

JVJI could save myself a lot of time by simply referring you to my 2015 review of the production because the only difference is substituting the slightly smaller Leicester stage for the grandeur of the New York Imperial. All the great effects are the same – the lighting in the barricades scene, the pure heroism of Red/Black, and the emotional charge of moments such as Bring Him Home and I Dreamed a Dream.

EponineComparisons are odious when it comes to performances. When we saw it in 2015, the management had clearly hired the best cast money could buy and they were all extraordinary, no exceptions. The UK touring production also has a fantastic cast but, in comparison, I felt they hadn’t all entirely grown into it yet. To be honest, the performance I saw still counted as a preview; and to compare that to a Broadway cast a few months into their run is probably not entirely fair. When we saw it in Broadway, we cried at Fantine’s death, Bring Him Home, and the final scene. We continued crying as we left the theatre. We resumed crying (embarrassed now) on the streets, walking back to our hotel. We threw ourselves on the bed and started crying all over again. THAT’S how emotional it was. In this production, I started to cry during Bring Me Home but got my cool back before the song had finished. Admittedly, when Fantine re-appeared to welcome Jean Valjean into heaven, I dissolved completely; but I was fine again by curtain call. If I compare the number of minutes spent in tears between the two performances then New York wins hands down on the emotional front.

Great setOur Jean Valjean was Killian Donnelly, a great actor with a tremendous voice, whom we enjoyed in Kinky Boots a couple of years ago. He really brings out the kindness and altruism of the role, largely as a result of exploiting his extraordinarily delicate tone when he sings. Some actors could take to this with bombast and turbo power, but Mr Donnelly makes it his own through sheer subtlety and grace. Javert, his arch-opponent, is played by Nic Greenshields, whose physical presence is so perfect for a dominant and domineering role. His is a powerful performance, both in the singing and the emotions. One thing that really works perfectly is how the two actors/characters both age during the show. Les Miserables spans the decades, so it makes sense for them both to become greyer as time goes on, and Mr Donnelly in particular gradually starts to shuffle and to stoop so that you really get the impression of an old man running out of time.

ThenardiersThere were excellent supporting performances by Tegan Bannister as Eponine and Katie Hall as Fantine, full of emotion and superb singing. Martin Ball gives us an almost pantomime villain performance as Thenardier, with the always terrific Sophie-Louise Dann as his ghastly wife. Harry Apps makes a remarkable professional debut as Marius – such a pivotal role, as you have to be both young and naïve yet mature enough to want to marry Cosette, and he pretty much nailed that; and Will Richardson cut a truly heroic figure as the inspirational Enjolras. I don’t know which child actors appeared in the show we saw, but whoever played little Cosette was absolutely perfect; and the friendship between Ruben Van Keer’s Grantaire and Gavroche was also very tenderly portrayed.

Marius and EnjolrasI had huge – and I mean huge – expectations of this show, having been blown over by the New York production, and I reckon they were 98% met; and it’s only going to get better and better as the tour progresses. After Leicester it travels to Dublin, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Milton Keynes and Newcastle. No hesitation in recommending it whole-heartedly; take lots of tissues.

7 thoughts on “Review – Les Miserables, Curve Theatre, Leicester, 10th November 2018

  1. This is coming from someone who saw the US tour back in November last year.

    I saw the tour two years after seeing the musical in the West End- I made the smart decision not to compare the cast I was about to see to the the West End cast or the staging. The cast I was about to see had an understudy as Eponine. Here are notes about my US cast. They currently are in the middle of their second year.

    Nick Cartell was one of the standouts. His performance of “Bring Him Home” was quiet enough, but strong enough for what that scene required. It truly sounded like a prayer. “Bring Him Home” is one of the biggest reasons why he was a standout.

    Josh Davis mastered Javert’s voice and delivered a fine rendition of “Stars”, but I felt like he was lacking to something. It is important to note I struggle with Javert actors and feeling for them.

    Melissa Mitchell decided to focus on Fantine’s naive side. It worked in my opinion.

    Jillian Butler as Cosette had this beautiful soprano voice, and matched perfectly with Joshua Grosso’s awkward and charming Marius. Those two were so adorable together- they literally felt like they just fell in love.

    Joshua Grosso was another standout- he surprised me in the love triangle. He actually was the strongest actor in the love triangle; something I don’t expect- as in “what happens when you favorite character in the love triangle is Eponine, but your strongest actor is Marius. He was charming and awkward. He literally is like “I’m in love, but what I am to do with it”- it works. In act II- he brings out the heartbreak and pain he is supposed to show. People might be telling him to show more emotion at “A Little Fall of Rain”- but I loved what I saw: he focused more on comforting: he waited till the end: he acted stunned- he did not finish the song until like 5 seconds, then ended the song, and the way he said (he did not sing), and the way he said that final word hurt: that was just enough to express just how heartbroken he was- it worked. He showed his heartbreak during “Empty Chairs”. He made Marius almost a core favorite character.

    Talia Simone Robinson as Eponine struggled at first, but eventually grew into the role. I saw some very strong moments in her- one such moment is during “A Little Fall of Rain”- very believable. I know how to treat understudies.

    Matt Shingledecker as Enjolras was my third and final standout. He acted like a confident and passionate leader.

    Allison Guinn and J. Anthony Crane were hilarious as the Thenardiers.

    Loved the staging. By not comparing, I was able to get the most out of this cast.

      • Last year, I was at a bit of a Les Mis dilemma. During the summer, I was thinking of seeing it in Charlotte, my hometown. Then the school year started up again (which was my last year of college), and I found out student activities was taking a group to Greenville to see it.

        I wanted to see it both times, but I could only see one. I had seen musicals at both Ovens and the Peace Center so I thought of the venues. I also wanted to make the most of my last year of college. So I soon settled to go with my school. That was a tough pick

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