Sunday, 3 October 2010

Beyond The Barricade

For the more theatrical readers among you, it will have occurred to you that this weekend was the 25th anniversary of the iconic musical - Les Miserables. By all standards that is one hell of a run for the show, which first started out at the Barbican theatre all those years ago. Some said that it would never even score a transfer to the West End. Though even the more optimistic followers of the show surly wouldn't have thought it would have lasted this long and manage to sweep across the globe like it has over the years.

he Barbican these days is known mostly for its dance productions, however that didn't stop Cameron Mackintosh negotiating a return for Les Miserables back to its original home. Over the last month it has made 22 special appearances at the Barbican - selling out almost every night. I was lucky enough to be at one of them earlier this week.

I must admit I love Les Mis, but I did have my reservations. Cameron Mackintosh had openly admitted in a radio interview that the 25th Anniversary edition of the show would feature some sizable differences to the original production playing at Queens Theatre in London. Furthermore I wasn't convinced that Gareth Gates would make a good Marius. Though as always I went to the show with an open mind. Though I will admit it is really difficult sitting there trying not to draw a comparison to the format of the show I had seen twice before.

The first notable change was that the set had been vastly modernised, which though had its advantages, I wasn't so sure about it. Something didn't feel right about having certain parts of the scenery projected onto the back wall. (Such as the sewer scenes) In a show that is so dated this just felt a bit too modern. Though in honesty this was only a minor gripe on the grand scheme of things.

Gareth Gates cast in the role of Marius was phenomenal. I had my reservations as I said, but they had proven unfounded. I think whenever I see a washed up pop star on a bill at a theatrical performance, it just feels like they have been added due to their name not their ability. Gareth Gates had however managed to adapt to the vocal demands of such a role, which is challenging throughout. He was convincing in his acting also which was a relief - and I really hope this encounter with musicals will be one of many. Sure beats a career in pop music!

Earl Carpenter in the role of Jarvet was the unsung hero of the show, never before have I seen such a passionate performance from an actor. Grasping every emotion with two hands and, encapsulating the audience with the power used in delivering these feelings is an art form in itself. Vocally his performance was second to none. In fact as a bold statement I feel Earl had the edge over John Owen-Jones, in the role of Jean Valjean. Don't get me wrong, he was too fantastic and delivered "Bring Him Home" perfectly, which you need one hell of a range to sing, and he managed that faultlessly! I just felt John's personification in the earlier scenes wasn't quite right. Though his second act performance was enough to win me over! It was also a pleasant surprise to see Jon Robyns again who played Marius in the West End version a while ago and before that starred in Avenue Q. He also happens to be one of my favorite actors!

I guess the only disappointment for me was the Thernadier scenes. I felt that whilst Ashley Artus is a talented actor, he just seemed to posh for the role. Strangely vocally he reminded me of Rik Mayall from The Young Ones. For the records I never used to watch the Young Ones, my dad did, I just remember it for some reason! Anyhow... that's going off at a tangent somewhat. I personally felt that he lacked the sleaze that you would normally associate with the role, he lacked that peasantish (yes that is a new word) charm which former actors have bought to the role. It wasn't terrible by any means, just could have been much better. There were some additions and twists to the scene that enhanced the comical value of the role, which was a pleasant touch in such a serious show.

So overall? What a show!!! When you see Les Miserables for yourself you will appreciate why it has lasted for 25 years. Some people argue that Susan Boyle's success with "I Dreamed A Dream" is the reason this show has been so successful of late. All I can say to this is, where was Susan Boyle for the 23 years before she came to fame? A show like this doesn't need some old trout from Scotland to be successful. It has managed all by itself, and its down to the powerful storyline, superb acting and phenomenal songs. At this rate it will be around for another twenty five years to come.

Happy Birthday Les Mis!

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