More than two decades after its explosive 1994 debut on Singaporean shores, Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed production of Les Misérables is in town once more. For ardent fans of the timeless musical, it’s been a long wait. Years have flown by since the musical took the stage at Kallang Theatre, yet the 2016 production at the Esplanade Theatre entrances us as it would have entranced audiences so many years ago.
Based on the French historical novel written by Victor Hugo, the Les Misérables musical follows the life of the ex-convict Jean Valjean and his path to redemption. The Cameron Mackintosh production of Les Misérables in 1985 was the first English version and it was re-imagined in 2010 for the musical’s 25th anniversary to incorporate the latest technology in theatre and develop the portrayal of some characters. This is the production that is now showing at Esplanade.
The musical is, in very few words, quite brilliant. From the intricate set design, its astonishing use of lighting effects and the amazing cast, it enthralled throughout. No wonder the audience (including myself) rose to our feet last Thursday when the cast came onstage for their final bow. Clearly, the tale of Jean Valjean told with music captures the hearts of people everywhere, of every age, in every time.
Simon Gleeson’s portrayal of Valjean is what we imagine Valjean to be – damaged and haunted, yet also unbelievably sincere. The main man attributes his unique vocal tone to his late training, as he only took up vocal lessons at 19. Our only, small gripe with his performance is his unclear pronounciation in his first musical number, “Soliloquy”, minutes after the musical began. We imagine it was a trade-off for conveying a Valjean who was shouting and angry with the world, but the garbled words would have confused audiences who had no idea what was going on yet.
An interview with the main man Simon Gleeson on how it feels to be playing such a “historically loved” character. (He says there are expectations to be met, and he’s damn right.)
Earl Carpenter, who has performed in Les Misérables since 1996 and has been in the role of Javert since 2008, was perfect as the rigid, let’s-go-by-the-book Inspector. Carpenter’s powerful vocal and clear, biting wrath for “dishonest men” was, needless to say, a vast improvement over Russell Crowe’s performance in the 2012 film adaptation. As we watch the emotional arc of Javert and his apparent struggle in letting Valjean go, we are surprisingly empathetic.
My personal favourite is Éponine (played by Kerrie Anne Greenland), whose moving, desperate solo “On My Own” is my favourite musical number of the show and a real tearjerker. Greenland’s frank, grounded vocal, Cosette’s lilting soprano (played by Emily Langridge) and Marius’s passionate performance (played by Paul Wilkins) make the love triangle a huge pleasure to watch.
Apart from the breathtaking musical numbers, Singaporean audiences can look forward to seeing the paintings of Victor Hugo himself as backdrops in the musical. The use of gloomy, moving watercolour projections when Valjean rescues Marius and trudges through the sewers, as well as the black, churning river in Javert’s suicide scene also drew audible gasps from the audience seats as they unfolded onstage.
Very rarely will a musical grab you by the lapels, shake you up and leave you with a bundle of emotions (as well as a tendency to hum the tune for “Can you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men…” for days on straight). Les Misérables is one of those musicals you need to watch at least once in your life. So Les Mis fans, grab your tickets and your tissues – you will need them! – and don’t Mis the show.
WhatsNextSG has a snippet of “One Day More” from the Media Call for your preview:
Details of Les Misérables Singapore 2016:
The musical runs from 31st May to 24th July 2016 at Esplanade Theatre.
Tickets details and more information can be found here
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