Les Miserables – Barbican Theatre

There are several things that strike you when revisiting Les Miserables as part of its 25th Anniversary production but the overriding thought is how this show has not only finally come of age but is also intrinsically linked to age and ageing. How many of those who saw the original production in those early days identified with Marius and the rebel student now find themselves more attuned to the ageing Valjean?

The marvel of this brand new production, a lavish birthday present by producer Cameron Mackintosh, is that it builds on 25 years of tinkering to present a fresh and definitive version that should serve for another 25 years.

What is surprising on revisiting the show for the first time in a decade is how powerful the piece remains. Much of this power lies in the strength of the score, sounding stronger than ever in Christopher Jake’s new orchestrations. From blues to soaring ballad, the multi-layered themes build into an emotional powerhouse.

What also surprises is the continued emotional impact of Les Mis, defying even the most jaded audience member to keep a dry eye.

Although technically a touring production, this is no minor bus and truck tour. Much like his acclaimed touring restaging of Miss Saigon, Cameron Mackintosh has demonstrated once again his ability to free a musical from its original staging to create a work that stands on its own merits.

Casting also stands this production aside from your average touring show. Gareth Gates may be surprising casting in the role of Marius but on the whole holds his ground, although does struggle with some of the more powerful moments of the score. In these post Britian’s got a celebrity x factor talent show times it’s odd that we perhaps now compare a rendition of a musical show stopper to that on a certain tv talent show, and while Madalena Alberto tries to do something different with I dreamed a dream she seems to be in a completely different show to the rest of the cast. Rosalind James’s Eponine also seemed to think she was auditioning for Simon Cowell and co, adding unnecessary vocal gymnastics into an increased tempo On My Own.

Against these niggles however is a major casting success in John Owen Jones. His Valjean a vocal and emotional powerhouse, easily moving from the vocal chord tearing Bring Him Home to the emotional intensity of One Day More.

This seems to be a much more cinematically fluid production, perhaps deliberately so ahead of a much talked about film version. Freed from the constraints of the revolve of the original it makes for a much more flowing production although the acclaimed projected elements are not visible from the cheap seats.

Based on this showing Les Mis will surely be around to celebrate its 30th birthday and beyond

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