Les Misérables the musical is colloquially and affectionately known as Les Mis. It is, of course, a legendary adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel.
The original French musical by Claude–Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil premiered in Paris in 1980 and the English-language adaptation by producer Cameron Mackintosh opened in London five years later.
Initially Mackintosh’s show seemed to be more folly than fabulous as it garnered dire reviews from critics who said it was a night of doom and gloom that would disappear without trace. Seems it was a five turkeys – not stars.
However the theatre going Brits love an underdog and went in their droves, adoring its songs and tale of ‘woe is me’.
Defying the critics, it has become the longest running musical in the West End.
For the few of you who may not know the story, it is set in early nineteenth century France in the period of the revolution and concerns one mans quest for redemption.
Jean Valjean is a convict released in 1815 after serving 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread. He starts life anew but Javert, a police inspector, pursues him relentlessly with a personal mission to send him back to prison.
It’s really a battle of morality between a man who believes we can all change given the opportunity and one who thinks ‘once a crim, always a crim.’
I have seen Les Mis’ countless times including the West End original but never have I enjoyed it as much as this new version which is adapted and directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell.
The best way I can describe it, is that this genius pair have lifted the show from musical theatre into a new form of grand opera merged with the kind of special effects you would find in a movie.
My first shout out is for Mick Potter who has produced the best sound design I have heard on stage anywhere. You hear the subtlest vocal like a pin dropping and become immersed in the battles with bullets literally whistling all around you. I’d say Potter is the ‘George Lucas’ of the stage.
Paule Constable has designed a lighting plot that for most of the time reflects the darkness of the back stories – when the odd happier vignette occurs, Constable lets the stage explode in a bath of Technicolor.
Matt Kinley has designed a wall-to-wall set that provides a multitude of spaces from a triple-decker of moving balconies packed with ensemble to intimate areas of solitude.
There are stunning projections realised by Finn Ross, which merge seamlessly into the overall production – not jarring as stand alones.
Ben Fergusson from a visible podium conducts a mighty orchestra doing full justice to the now classic score.
Cameron Mackintosh is known for filling his musical casts with amazing voices not soap stars and this assembly contains a mix of seasoned performers and worthy new talent.
Ian Hughes and Helen Walsh are magnificently despicable as the thieving and conniving Thénardiers.
Nathania Ong brings poignancy to the antihero Éponine and there is girl next-door naivety to the role of Cosette from Paige Blankson.
As to the two leads – Dean Chisnall as Jean Valjean and Nic Greenshields as Javert – a bouquet of salutes and bravos! They capture the characters and take us bedazzled with them on their respective journeys.
If you’ve never seen ‘Les Mis’ before then you’re in for a treat; if you have prepare to see it reborn. This is a hair-raising, jaw-dropping, heart tugging, tear drenching and uplifting 180 minutes of theatrical brilliance.
Les Mis runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday, August 27. Click here for times, tickets and more information.