Starring: Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, Norm Lewis as Javert, Matt Lucas as Thenardier, Jenny Galloway as Madame Thenarier, Lea Salonga as Fantine, Samantha Barks as Eponine, Nick Jonas as Marius, Katie Hall as Cosette and Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras. Plus Colm Wilkinson, Michael Ball, Frances Ruffelle, Alun Armstrong, Roger Allam, John Owen-Jones, Simon Bowman, Earl Carpenter, Hadley Fraser and the original 1985 London Company. The 2010 Original Production and 2010 New Production, and a chorus and musicians numbering over 550.
From the outset, Les Miserables has been epic. First Victor Hugo's novel, then countless movie adaptations and even a PBS version. But nothing really prepared the world for the epic piece of musical theatre it would become. In 1985, clocking in at over 3 and a half hours in length, the show opened at the Barbican Theatre, and it was not a success - a fact that seems to get glossed over in its rosy colored history. Critics ravaged its length, its simplification of themes and characters, its "atrocious translation," and the sheer audacity of trying to bring such an epic downer to the stage. And so its fate, it seemed, was sealed.
But a funny thing happened. The people came anyway. The very people that the show was about - common, everyday folk, not the upper echelons of theatre snobbery. It seemed that, in fact, misery loves company, and a love story, and a rallying around a cause, and the triumph of moral right over legal right. And so, after the Barbican, the West End, two runs on Broadway, several national and international tours, and a rumored translation into Martian, we have arrived 25 years later at an anniversary that has to date never been equalled in terms of presentation.
Second, the company itself features over 550 actors, singers and musicians. And it doesn't end there. In perhaps the most epic of curtain calls ever, members of the original 1985 London cast, the current company of the original production, which is still running in the West End, AND a 2010 new production company, all take the stage to sing several numbers, including "Bring Him Home," "One Day More," and with hundreds of school children who have performed the school version of the show, "Do You Hear the People Sing?" It is, in and of itself, a grand and glorious production. And that is just the curtain call.
By far, though, my two favorite performances of the show were by Ramin Karimloo and Lea Salonga. I have loved "I Dreamed a Dream" since the first time I heard Patti LuPone belt it on the Original London Cast Recording, and it still my go-to song wen I sing in the shower. And I also love the story arc and character of Fantine. I've heard many actresses do this role, including Alice Ripley and the US original Randy Graff, and I think Ms. Salonga is my second favorite ever, behind Ms. LuPone. And, even having seen the original Broadway cast with Tony winner Michael Maguire, I have never been able to figure out why student leader Enjolras was such a big deal. Well that ended the second Karimloo took the stage. Sure it helps that he is devestatingly handsome, but his passion and fire in the role really brought it to life for me in a way that no other performer has been able to for me.
The DVD comes with a special "Whiz Through Les Miz" bonus feature which is fun and theatrical, and the show is also subtitled in several languages.
(Talk about good timing! This very performance was broadcast on PBS on Sunday, March 6th!)
(Photos by Bing Shimizu)
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