At the risk of being cast out by the musical theatre community… Deep breath… I didn’t think that Les Mis was ‘all that.’
The music is iconic – there’s no disputing the quality of the cast recording and the poignance of the most well known songs. ‘On My Own,’ ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and ‘Bring Him Home’ have all touched me very deeply when performed well in the past. However here, much like I found with Billy Elliot, it felt like the show was tired and dated. No need for changing a winning tourist formula is the perfect recipe for a show to get a bit lazy. You only need to look at the wonderful Wicked to see how a show can be commercially successful, high quality and modern. I’m definitely a theatre snob, but I don’t think it’s a sin to expect that when you’ve paid £45 for a partially restricted view ticket that you could expect some innovation.
Don’t get me wrong, the show is full of energy at points. Its real high came at the end of each act when the ensemble gathered for the rabble-rousing ‘One Day More’ and the finale. In fact, this strength showed exactly what the show was missing- a stand out performance. Much more effective as the sum of their parts, the cast were extremely powerful together, but as the myriad of individual stories were developed over the first act, the individuals lacked the necessary punch to get me really excited.
Plot lines just seemed rushed – Cosette walks past Marius without a word and he is instantly, irrevocably in love, Valjean escapes from Javert and suddenly the policeman makes it his lifelong mission to hunt him down. The emotion that I saw on stage just didn’t seem to have been developed enough to justify the depiction of such intense motivators. It was probably unlucky to be seeing the first post-Christmas performance with an understudy of Valjean, but this is no real excuse for what should be a professional production. Post Christmas flabbiness (of the show, not the actors’ waistlines…) doesn’t reduce the ticket prices or the expectations of the audience. In the past I have always enjoyed seeing understudies – they are often hungry and delighted to have their moment in the spotlight. This didn’t come across here, which was disappointing.
It is clear to see that this show could be great, but it does need a wake-up call. The images of the revolutionaries waving their massive flag and the post-apocalyptic tableau of bodies on the barricades are fragments of a really influential piece of theatre and are now burned onto my brain forever. I risk my reputation again by saying that I think the film could really do justice to this material by casting a huge array of extremely strong actors in the main roles. This is a story of struggling fighters and survivals against the odds in various forms – not one of characters who seem insipid and weak. I want to fancy Marius, fear Javert and mourn Fontine and Eponine so that I can see what all the fuss was about. Hopefully Mr Jackman and co can really make me feel something at the cinema. Roll on Friday.