Like so many people I’ve seen LES MISÉRABLES many times, in fact my first experience was in it’s original London home. Since then, I have witnessed many re-workings, staged versions and the movie, so when this all new production moved in to the Wales Millennium Centre for it’s month long run, I was eager to see how CAMERON MACKINTOSH has been able to bring even more passion into this already incredible show.
It’s the movie you need to use as your template for this production. From the get go it feels more filmic. Of course it’s all live and brilliantly performed, but the use of screens and projection does add an extra element to this production, more of that shortly.
I always think any type of theatrical experience begins long before you take your seat in the auditorium, and despite the work they are carrying out in the foyer at the WMC (HERE), you certainly get the Les Mis buzz as you walk up to this impressive building.
I realise this is a review of the production itself, but Les Misérable is definitely an experience, and one you should enjoy from the moment you arrive at the theatre.
By the time we’d taken our seats, with a sell out Friday evening audience, you could smell the excitement in the air. To say we were all ready for this 2 hour 50 minute emotional rollercoaster ride of a show, would be an understatement.
I say we because I took a Les Mis newbie along with me. Ffion has never seen the production, or indeed the movie, but is familiar with a lot of the music. From the moment the prologue began (yes, it has one of those), she was transfixed on the Donald Gordon stage. It was really good to gauge the show from a newcomers perspective
Les Mis is stunning, it always has been, but in this new environment it feels even more immersive. The days when we used to separate West End shows and touring productions are long gone. This is visually as good as you’ll find anywhere in the country.
As the hugely impressive orchestra started, under the direction of GILES DEACON, the rousing music and thumping drum sent a shiver down my spine. It’s a weird feeling with a show like this, you mentally have to prepare yourself for what’s coming – including tissues in your pocket if you’re of a sensitive disposition (like me).
Let’s get straight into some feedback from last night’s audience. It was clear what their reaction would be after the show had an unusually long, and well deserved standing ovation. What I wasn’t expecting, as you’ll see here, was the emotional impact last night’s performance had, long after the curtain had come down.
We also got so speak to SAMUEL WYN-MORRIS who hails from Llanelli, and is a first language Welsh Speaker. He plays the role of ENJOLRAS in this tour, a role he’s done since being understudy in London’s West End.
I realise I have unusually started this review with a mention for the set and orchestra, but as they are the first things you see and hear, I felt it only fair to give credit there.
This production of LES MISÉRABLES is vast and contemporary, and it really does feel like you’re in the centre of a massive blockbuster film at times. It’s that element which has brought the show bang up to date.
Of course, this a show with some of the most iconic characters and songs, and it’s those who carry this production through it’s often heart-breaking journey. The lead character, Jean Valjean, is the most demanding and DEAN CHISNALL carries it off with captivating brilliance. His voice is more than impressive. He brought a lot of us to tears with his rendition of Bring Him Home.
NIC GREENSHIELDS as Javert is equally commanding in both voice and stature. The big moment, when he is forced to make a life-changing decision (no spoilers here), is incredible. I have seen this done so many different ways over the years and this production stands out as one of the best.
You can read our interview with Dean and Nic HERE.
Les Misérables is based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel of the same name. It tells the story of Jean Valjean, a prisoner who breaks parole, and Javert, a police inspector who tries to track him down. Along the way we meet people who come and go in Valjean’s life, all having an impact on how he lives his.
Jean Valjean, Cosette (PAIGE BLANKSON), Marius (WILL CALLAN) and Fantine (LAUREN DREW) have truly emotional stories to tell. If Lauren doesn’t bring you to tears with ‘I Dreamed a Dream‘ then you truly have a heart of stone and it’s unlikely Santa will visit you this year.
But it’s not all doom and darkness. The Thénardier’s (IAN HUGHES and HELEN WALSH) are a married couple with a liking for picking a pocket or two. They are really funny and bring us much needed light relief at just the right time.
The story is set in the June Rebellion of 1832, not the French Revolution as some will tell you. This takes us to one of the most iconic moments in the production, which even those who have never seen the show will know.
The stage slowly transforms, in a perfectly choreographed scene, which reveals a new purpose to the buildings and towers we’ve had in view throughout the first half. They move across the stage to reveal the barricades, transporting us back to the heart of the rebellion. MATT KINLEY has designed something really special for this tour, which may look effortless from our perspective but clearly has incredible thought and planning behind this really impressive piece of production.
Which brings us nicely to that young man you see in the first picture, dressed in the red tunic.
As we mentioned earlier, that is SAMUEL WYN-MORRIS from Llanelli, plays the role of ENJOLRAS in this tour, a role he’s done since being understudy in London’s West End. He is a commanding figure on stage and brings a dashing, fearless charm to the role, and of course, has a fantastic voice too.
We spoke to Sam prior to his arrival at the Wales Millennium Centre, a stage he is most excited to be performing on. You can watch our interview HERE.
I’d like to bet that even if you don’t know Les Mis the show, you will indeed have come across some of the songs. The albums have sold millions, with the movie version still holding the record as one of the fast selling film soundtracks ever.
With favourites like ‘I Dreamed a Dream‘, ‘On My Own‘, ‘Stars‘, ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?‘, ‘One Day More‘, and ‘Master Of The House‘ you will definitely be silently singing along with the cast. For me though, it’s always ‘Bring Him Home‘ which gets me every single time. Dean, you did it again – that was me sniffing in the audience.
Les Misérable is a big show in every sense, and everyone on the stage and behind the scenes too plays a massive part in its success. Every member of the cast is absolutely bang on point, there really isn’t a weak link in this production.
As I watched the show this time around I tried to decide how I would describe the story to you. I think the best way is to refer you to Victor Hugo’s original novel.
At the heart of Les Misérable is a tale of love and compassion. These are the most valuable gifts one person can give another, he says, and that always displaying these qualities should be the most important goal in life. I think at this time of the year, when we are more stretched to the limit, Victor’s words have never rung more true.
This staging of LES MISÉRABLES is TRÈS FANTASTIQUE and the most impressive touring production I’ve seen for many years. Despite the wealth of ‘new kids‘ trying to steal it’s crown, this show remains one of the most spectacular and outstanding you’ll see. The sound, set and songs are world class. Everything about it is riveting from start to finish.
Thank heavens LES MISÉRABLES is at the Wales Millennium Centre through to Saturday 14th January 2023, it means I get to see it ‘One Day More’, which I most certainly will. There are various performances, evening and Matinee, with tickets starting at £23 through to £65. If you want to check the ticket situation either call the Box Office on 02920-636464 or go HERE.