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A CurtainUp London London Review
Les Miserables

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high,
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
— Fantine
Les Miserables
Madalena Alberto as Fantine, John Owen-Jones as Valjean, Gareth Gates as Marius and Katie Hall as Cosette (Photo: Michael LePoer Trench)
Celebrating twenty five years as the world's most popular musical where it all started for the Royal Shakespeare Company under the directorship of Sir Trevor Nunn, is a new production of Les Miserables at The Barbican. Now I used to see Les Miserables every New Year's Eve so as to feel less miserable on new year, a feast for me full of maudlin sentiment: so I have to qualify as a huge fan of this Boublil and Schönberg musical. The show at the Queen's Theatre, where it moved from the Palace some years' back, is still continuing and there are also numerous touring productions worldwide.

Joint directors Laurence Connor and James Powell have streamlined the show away from the rather clunky 1980s staging when even a landing helicopter was mandatory on the London stage. The result is a leaner, fitter Les Miserables. True it's as long as ever — three hours— but I love the familiar tunes an d grin madly when I see Enjolras (Jon Robyns) leading the barricade revolutionaries in the side stepping marching on the spot so parodied by the show Forbidden Broadway.

The opening scene is staged with a difference as the prisoners appeared to be rowing prison hulks. I don't remember that in the original. I thought they were breaking rocks then but memory can play tricks. In fact, there is more of a nautical theme in the scenes that take place where Fantine (Madalena Alberto) loses her locket, her hair and her virtue in, I think Montreuil sur Mer. Gone are those helpful slides announcing the place and year but we can see in the background the masts of ships in the harbour.

Magnificent projections based on the paintings of Victor Hugo convey the backdrop— sometimes impressionistic, sometimes charcoal drawings of great detail. I haven't before been a fan of projected staging but I loved the swirling tunnels of the sewers for Jean Valjean (John Owen-Jones) to wade through as he rescues Marius (Gareth Gates), carrying him on his back. On the barricades I remember clearly seeing that some of the "bodies" were dummies in the original production. Not so in this production, all the bodies are real actors!

The crowd are more animated, with more action, less standing around to sing. The production generally seems less grandiose and more personal. The "Empty Tables" number about loss does not have any chairs or tables but is staged with night lights representing the lost souls.

The weakness, if any, is the repetition of the melodies that was a strength on first viewing the show. My companion, who is much more musical than I am, told me he found the tunes somewhat "toppy" in the higher register. I think Forbidden Broadway also had something to say about that when in their skit Valjean sings, "It's too high".

John Owen-Jones is vocally magnificent as Jean Valjean but I was less enraptured by the solo female voices although Cosette (Katie Hall) has a very good voice. The end of Act One is a long time coming. I would happily cut those scenes when Thenardier's gang rob Valjean's house in Paris and Eponine (Rosalind James) can get annoying in her mack and 1960s cap.

Minor quibbles aside, this is an enjoyable new production of Les Miserables and it's my absolute favourite of the more recent musicals since Rogers and Hammerstein and Bernstein.

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Twenty fifth Anniversary Tour of Les Miserables
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Music by Claude-Michel Schõnberg
Lyrics by Herbet Kretzmer
Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell

Starring: John Owen-Jones, Earl Carpenter, Madalena Alberto, Lynne Wilmott, Ashley Artus, Rosalind James, Katie Hall, Jon Robyns, Gareth Gates
With: David Lawrence, Jonathan Alden, Laura Tebbutt, Victoria Farley, Rhiannon Sarah Potrter, Rosa O'Reilly, Leigh Rhianon Coggins, Vanessa Leagh Hicks, Beth davies, Julie Stark, Carl Mullaney, Sophie Downham, Lauren Dawes, Shakira Riddle Morales, Charlotte Statham, Max Griesbach, Robert Madge, Toby Prynne, Luke Kempner, Ian Caddick, David Covey, Owain Williams, Christopher Jaconsen, rhidian Marc, Adam Linstead, Jamie Muscato, Joanna Laxton, Gemma O'Duffy, Michael Baxter, Peter Manchester, Leighton Rafferty
Set Design: Matt Kinley inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo
Costume Design: Andreane Neofitou
Lighting: Paule Constable
Sound: Mick Potter
Musical Supervisor: Nick Finlow
Musical Director: Peter White
Musical Staging by Michael Ashcroft
Producer: Cameron Mackintosh
Running time: Three hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7638 8891
Booking to 2nd October 2010, then at the O2 and from 19th November 2010 to September 2011 on tour in the United States of America from New Jersey to Alabama. Tour dates website:
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 23rd September 2010 performance at the Barbican, Silk street, London EC2Y 8DS (Tube: Barbican or Moorgate)
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