'Les Miz' revisited: 25 tuneful years, dreamy cast
Constantly called the greatest musical ever, “Les Miserables: 25th Anniversary Concert,” a concert film on the milestone 25th anniversary of the Cameron Mackintosh London-originated global sensation, was a one-night theatrical special last evening (Nov. 17) at the Regal Dole Cannery.
If you’re a “Les Miz” fan (I am), it was a dream cast performing a dream show. This, despite the not-so-dreamy theater sound (limp at best). If this was concert-quality sound, I didn’t feel it.
Since I couldn’t be in London for the actual commemorative presentation last October, this one-nighter, airing at selected screens nationally, was the next best thing.
First off, theater should be seen live.
There’s nothing quite as emotional, involving, inspiring and entertaining — bring on the tears, bring on the cheers, bring on the jeers (the are heroes aplenty and a hardcore villain, if you don’t know this Victor Hugo story about the French Revolution) — and the power is diminished considerably as a film experience. Still, the passion and the power prevailed —of the words and music, of the performances (actors and actresses in costumes, without the turnstile staging or the barricades).
The 02 Arena, a cavernous space, boasted a mammoth stage and a network of overhanging lights that danced and flashed on precise cues, descended as set pieces to double as hanging barricades. Add a trio of humungous overhead video screens to provide stellar closeups and multi-imagery of performers on the main deck, and you're talking extravaganza.
There were stage tiers, too, housing “a cast of thousands,” so to speak: the huge live orchestra, and rows and rows and rows of choral singers, who frequently beefed up the momentum in support of the principals, decked in blue, white, and red T-shirts with Cosette's familiar face.
What stupendous voices, throughout the ranks!
Alfie Boe was the perfect Jean Valjean, strong and thunderous but also gentile and delicate, particularly on the iconic “Bring Him Home,” one of the treasures of the score by Alan Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer.
Truly, he was the star of the three-hour journey. If you saw Baz Luhrmann’s “La Boheme” on Broadway, Boe earned a Tony for his performance.
Norm Lewis was the ultimate antagonist, with persistent and bold tones, as Inspector Javert.
Lea Salonga, who has done Fantine and Eponine on Broadway (and Eponine in Hawaii), was a genuinely motherly Fantine with her “I Dreamed a Dream” signature.
Samantha Barks was the lovestruck but loyal Eponine, who breathed pain and heartbreak into her “On My Own” solo.
Matt Lucas as Thenardier and Jenny Galloway as Madame Thenardier brought comic acting (and singing) to new heights as the conniving “Master of the House” innkeepers and wedding crashers.
Ramin Karimloo was a handsome and energetic rebel-rouser, Enjolras, figuring as the corps leader on “Do You Hear the People Sing?”
For stardust (and to appeal to the younger audience), American Nick Jonas, one third of The Jonas Brothers, was a mild-mannered soft-voiced Marius, smitten over Cosette (a sweet and fragile Katie Hall) who also delivers “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” with aplomb. Footnote: When he was 9, he played Gavroche for nine months in the original Broadway run.
The event had some unexpected bonuses that will be a major keepsake in the upcoming DVD release of this project: the assembly of the two British casts that have nurtured the beloved historical story-with-music since 1985, but the grand slam was the unexpected reunion of the original 1985 cast, led by Colm Wilkinson singing “Bring Him Home.” Three other Valjeans, including Boe, joined in, and four Javerts also were in the grand finale.
One more thing: “Les Miserables,” meaning this musical, finally is heading for the big screen, a decade or so following a dramatic version (without the music) that tanked at the box office.
So, “One Day More” for the greatest musical ever written.