Since joining the West End over thirty-seven years ago, Cameron Mackintosh's Les Misérables is a staple part of London's Theatreland. Although we have seen many versions of the production performed on this stage over the years, and most recently the transition to the 2009 UK touring version of the show, there is a reason why this show has for so long been bringing in full-house audiences.
Known by so many, Les Mis is home to iconic songs such as ‘I Dreamed a Dream', and ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables'. To hear these classic songs, which are so often overdone in local theatre groups and auditions, be performed so spectacularly on a live stage is almost dreamlike. No matter how the production is presented on stage, audience members and hardcore fans cannot deny the beauty of the Claude-Michel Schönberg and John Cameron's score - which will live on in the world of Musical Theatre.
The opening of the show at first lacks the spectacle expected from the audience, with a basic set, simple projection, and slightly lacklustre music rather than the powerful punch that ‘Look Down' is known for. Although, after this scene moves on, we are welcomed into a much grander world of Les Misérables. With fast and slick transitions, grand set pieces, and an incredibly strong ensemble, we are shown the beauty of this production from every inch of the stage.
In September 2022, new cast members joined the stage at the Sondheim. The injection of these performers, blending with those that stayed on, make up an intensely powerful ensemble. ‘Lovely Ladies' is a clear moment that shows the extreme talent of the female performers in particular. Snippets of their incredible voices remind the audience that it is not just the principal characters who are phenomenal performers. The collective talent on this stage is of the highest calibre.
Certain hits of the show, unfortunately, lack the iconic power often thought of when the familiar melody is heard by audience members. It is hard to say whether this is due to directorial choices of unnatural ‘cheesy' blocking, such as the dramatic run across the stage to emphasise emotion, or whether this is due to a lack of such emotion from the performers themselves. Les Mis tells the story of loss, poverty, power, and corruption - certain performers lack the portrayal of these core themes in their renditions. It is not to be questioned whether any voices aren't beautiful, but there is so much depth behind the lyrics that are almost forgotten.
Although, these moments do not falter some of the show's incredible stand-out performances, such as Nathania Ong playing the role of Eponine. Her truthful performance of 'On My Own' shows the deep pain of unrequited love for Marius. From the moment her character is introduced on stage, the audience is blown away by the stunning tone of her voice, which is consistent throughout the show. Her voice has depth, grit, and beauty in every line. It is also impossible to forget the phenomenal performance of Jon Robyns as Jean Valjean. ‘Bring Him Home' is chillingly heartbreaking, as we see Valjean praying for Marius' safety, to be able to live a life with Cosette. The vocal skill of Robyns is outstanding and brings such power to the stage in his altercations with Javert, played by the equally talented David Thaxton.
Another highlight of the show is unquestionably the hilarious and perfectly timed performances of Thénardier (Gerard Carey) and Madame Thénardier (Josefina Gabrielle). Everything is perfect about their presentation of the scheming couple – the chaotic songs with sly choreography to lure their customers into their pub, pathetic attempt to try and seem like loving carers of Cosette, and all is complemented by their fitting costume designs (Andreane Neofitou, Christine Rowland, Paul Nills). Their comical performances provide a balance from the heart-wrenching scenes of loss and grief throughout the show, reminding us of the conditions that so many were living in early nineteenth-century France.
Having had audience members witness different versions of the show over the years, it cannot be certain that all would love the current showing of the iconic production – but it is certain that audiences can appreciate the pure talent on stage. It is evident why this show has been running so long, in the heart of London's West End.
Les Misérables is booking until September 2023 at the Sondheim Theatre. You can find tickets from £24 here and you can use the code LTR8 for an extra 8% discount!
Photo: Johan Persson