I made it back home, and now we finally got the Internet back up and running so I can post again! I have to admit that part of the delay was due to my being alternately lazy and busy at work. But as I mentioned, I still have lots to tell about my travels, so let’s get to it!
Do you recall that one of the things on my “London To-Do List” was seeing Les Miserables? Well needless to say, “I dreamed a dream” and that one came true. The weekend of the Diamond Jubilee, I went into London with a few others where we spent the morning at Westminster Abbey. Then, Amanda and I split to head towards the Queen’s Theatre. We took the tube to Leicester Square and walked a few blocks through London’s China Town until the theatre rose before us, decked out in Les Mis fashion.
I will be extremely sorry for anyone reading this who has not heard of this amazing musical before. Les Miserables has been astounding millions since 1985 as the longest running musical in the West End. Les Miserables recently celebrated its 25th anniversary back in 2010. Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil are the two men responsible for bringing Victor Hugo’s novel to life on the much beloved stage adaptation. Schonberg wrote the score while Boublil produced the original French lyrics (the show first saw a run in Paris in 1980). The producer Cameron Mackintosh – a theatre god, for all intents and purposes – took an interest in Schonberg and Boublil’s work when they brought it to London in hopes of a more permanent spot as London’s West End was truly the place to be for musicals.
Written in 1862, Hugo’s novel tells the story of protagonist Jean Valjean. Valjean’s journey through life is one riddled with struggles, as are the lives of those around him, as events in the story culminate in the June Rebellion which took place in Paris in 1832. I cannot say that I have read the original book – yet. I wish I could tell you more and have a better comparison of novel to stage for you, but that will have to wait until I tackle the lengthy but legendary book!
After taking pictures of the outside of the Queen’s Theatre, we walked into the small ticket collection and purchase area directly inside. Having done some research in which the site “Theatre Monkey” was extremely helpful, I thought we could try taking advantage of being a student for little longer and do something called “standby tickets”. As a student we could go about an hour to two ahead of the show, in this case the Saturday matinee, and ask for standby tickets. A student I.D. is required and then the best seats available are offered.
Readers, I only wish I had known about this way back in February when I saw Phantom of the Opera! We were able to get some of the best seats I have ever had at a show (probably second only to those 4th row seats in Vegas) for the lowest seating price. To give you a better idea: we got 65 pound seats for 27 pounds…?! Yes, we sat 9 rows back, pretty close to the center with a fantastic view of the stage for more than half the price those seats would have cost – it was amazing!
We couldn’t believe it as we took our seats – the grin on my face may or may not have unsettled the lady sitting on my right – and yes, we did get seats together, too. I discreetly scarfed down a peanut butter and nutella sandwich in the few minutes we had before the curtain rose as I was too busy taking pictures and gawking beforehand to eat. And boy was I excited!
Technically, this would be the second time I have seen Les Mis. However, the first time I saw it I was 8 or 9 years old. We were also pretty high up and far from the stage. As a kid, I can say quite honestly that I definitely did not understand everything that went on in the show. It was a good thing that my parents had the foresight to have us listen to the highlights (a CD all three of their kids have loved ever since) and explain things to us beforehand. Though I do wonder how they explained the Lovely Ladies bit…So anyway, this was really as if I were seeing it for the first time. If you haven’t seen it and plan too (which you most definitely should), please read the rest of this post with caution as it will contain some spoilers! However, just as I will suggest you listen to the soundtrack, I don’t believe that these spoilers would in any way spoil the experience of seeing it for yourself.
The opening sequence really sets the tone for this story that explores the concepts of justice, law, faith, and redemption. Monsieur Valjean is a felon, convicted for stealing a mouthful of bread, who has just served his sentence. And so we are introduced to our protagonist, his counterpart Inspector Javert, and the incident that causes Valjean to turn his life around and change his attitude towards the world around him.
As is fairly common at matinee performances, we saw an understudy as one of the main roles. Shaun Dalton was incredible as Javert. His 6’5″+ stature and strong voice really created a commanding presence on the stage; something that is essential for the character of Javert. I was also extremely pleased to have seen David Shannon in the title role of Jean Valjean. His voice was amazing, as was his acting and portrayal of the character. Right from his “this is all I have lived for, this is all I have known” in Valjean’s Soliloquy, I was completely sucked in by his performance. Shannon and Dalton made a great duo as their characters clashed time and again.
One of the aspects of this show that I love is the mirroring of characters: Valjean and Javert, Eponine and Cosette, as well as Eponine and Fantine, and Enjolras and Grantaire. I have always found Javert and Eponine to be especially intriguing characters. When you listen to Stars you understand Javert’s character and motivation. “You hold your place in the sky, know your course and your aim…and each in your season returns and returns, and is always the same”; he’s a man who sees the world in black and white, sticks to the straight and narrow, and admires constancy.
While we root for Valjean all the way, I, at least, can’t bring myself to hate Javert. He’s not quite an antagonist or a villain. As Valjean himself says, he was doing his job and nothing more. At the end, he does change, even if it will cost him everything to do so. Eponine, despite an original impression of being spoiled by her parents, comes to be just as strong in character as Valjean. In fact, it hit me towards the end that her parents, the Mr. and Mrs. Thenardier, didn’t even seem to know or care about the fate of their daughter. She is brave and true to her friend and unrequited love, and for that I admire her. The dynamics and tragedies of these two really make me feel for and root for them.
Valjean, of course, you can’t help but like. His moral strength and goodness is an example of the power of second chances, redemption, and the enduring heart of mankind through the good and the bad times. The entire cast was great. Alexia Kadine played Eponine, and I do have to say that her voice was not one I was used to from the recording I have listened to time and again. But different is not bad, and her acting and portrayal of the character was brilliant. Craig Mather and Lisa-Anne Wood also made a great Marius and Cosette; their voices complementing each other’s beautifully.
The production aspects, too, were amazing. The way they did things such as the lights and staging in Javert’s last moments, and the creative use of a rotating stage (boy was I surprised when it actually started moving with Valjean’s walk!) – oh, and the barricade! Such clever ways to set the stage (no pun intended this time) for a revolution in Paris.
Though long, every second is spent enthralled in the lives of each character. One scene that really stands out in my mind is when the young boy, Gavroche, fell, and everyone in the audience went deathly silent. That may sound silly when the audience is already quiet, but there was an intense shift in atmosphere at that shocking moment. It seems as if he’s going to make it, and everyone is ready to laugh and cheer for him, which is why it really did create a true silence.
Another interesting thing about Les Miserables are the Thenardiers. Horrible people, really…and yet, we love their antics. It’s true that they bring an essential lightness to the story, and Cameron Blakely and Katy Secombe were spot on with their performance, but it is interesting how we can smile with them when others all around are suffering.
Anyway, I’ve gone on too long about Les Mis, I know. But it is such an astounding show, with heartfelt music and lyrics, and a fantastic London cast right now. There is so much to go on about with it! As with Phantom, it is a timeless piece and experience that I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone. Well, perhaps wait to take your 9 year old until they gain a bit more life experience…but it really is a show that everyone can enjoy and connect with.
Definitely listen to the soundtrack if you haven’t had that pleasure yet and you will be in for a treat – especially when One Day More rolls around! The music and themes for characters blend and occur throughout the play meaningfully and beautifully. Please, do yourself a favor and give it a listen. And if you are a student (or enjoy elderly discounts), be sure to give standby tickets a go! It was so easy, and so, so worth it.
Well, thanks for listening to me prattle on about my thoughts of the characters and dynamics of the story. And readers, please feel free to add any comments you have about Les Mis! I’d love to hear them; if it’s about your own experience, if you think I’m interpreting a character all wrong, any questions, a favorite lyric, anything! Well, on to “another day, another destiny”. Thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…