During my long-ago school days I was made to read Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, which horrified me since I had no idea of man’s inhumanity to man.
So when I heard this traumatic tale was to be made into a musical, I vowed never to see it.
However, I did eventually make my way to Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre and was utterly bowled over by Cameron Mackintosh’s production of France’s les pauvres during the early 1800s.
Now it is back at The Mayflower until March 26 so catch this blockbuster if you can with its lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and music by Claud-Michel Schonberg.
It is operatic in concept and construction but it has that magic touch, giving it such a broad appeal across the world.
I did notice it has been tweaked a little here and there and in most cases, especially musically, adding to an already tour de force.
The staging is stupendous with cleverly-designed sets and back projection, especially when taking the audience through the sewers of Paris.
There is a powerful performance from Dean Chisnall playing the lead role as Jean Valjean, the man sentenced to 19 years on a chain gang for stealing bread for a sick child.
On his release he gives his soul to God after receiving charity and forgiveness from the Bishop of Digne.
Katie Hall is the ill-fated Fantine who once Dreamed A Dream but is forced into prostitution to pay for the upkeep of her fatherless daughter, little Cosette, (Megan Hyne). The child is lodged with the unscrupulous Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, The Master of the House (Ian Huges) and his overblown wife (Helen Walsh) are a ‘dog eat dog’ couple who bring a crude but raucous hilarity to the musical.
A much darker and more pervading evil force is Inspector Javert (Nic Greenshields) who hounds Valjean to his own end.
Les Misérables takes its audience through a wringer of emotions.
Particularly poignant, yet rousing, is the scene where the students of Paris man the barricades against all odds – One Day More and Do You Hear the People Sing.
They didn’t, and one by one the young men are shot, including Marius (Will Callan): but Valjean will Bring Him Home to safety to the girl he loves, the adopted daughter of Valjean, a grown-up Cosette (Paige Blankson) – cue for a romantic duet A Heart Full of Love.
There is also an exceptional performance from Nathania Ong playing Éponine, the Thénardier’s feisty daughter. Her numbers On My Own and A Little Fall of Rain are yet more tearjerkers.
The cast and orchestra, under the direction of Ben Ferguson, received a well-deserved prolonged standing ovation. My verdict: ‘outstanding’.
Les Misérables will be continuing at The Mayflower Theatre until March 28. Call box office on 02380 711811 or online: mayflower.org.uk
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