Theatre critics can sometimes be very useful. Take Sheridan Morley, for instance, who, in the mid eighties, was almost the only voice amidst a tsunami of naysayers to have something nice to say about Les Misérables. Nearly every other critic slammed it with lines like “a witless and synthetic entertainment”. The show proved them wrong and continues to prove them wrong and at 38 years it is undoubtedly one of the most successful theatrical achievements in world history. I hadn’t seen the show since 1986 but it has been with me ever since so reuniting with it last night at the Birmingham Hippodrome was like meeting a long lost friend and a long lost friend who looks and sounds a lot brighter and vibrant than the passing years would suggest. It really is a stunning price of work. The plot trips along at a fantastic pace with the threat of seeming more like a précis than a story at times and there are two dodgy bits of plotting in act two (it’s intriguing who you happened to stumble across in the sewers of Paris) but these are minor quibbles.
“Les Misérables” from Cameron Mackintosh began as a co-production with the Royal Shakespeare Company and their attention to detail and high-definition production values can still be traced here – even though no credit is any longer given in the programme. This revisioned version (no revolve – still a controversial decision amongst Les Mizettes) and a background decorated by paintings inspired by those of Victor Hugo himself (who knew?) breathe fresh life into this old warhorse and the shared direction between James Powell and Laurence Connor create something vibrantly inspiring and optically dazzling. Paul Constable’s lighting design had a chiaroscuro quality blending a delicate palette of colours with occasional flashes of brash piecing white. Mick Potter’s sound was faultless and offered absolute clarity throughout. These coupled with Matt Kinley’s sturdy set designs created a sterling platform from which the performer could work.
As for the cast, they delivered some of the best singing I’ve heard in the Hippodrome in years. Every performance was tonally perfect. Dean Chisnall as Jean Valjean, Rachelle Ann Go as Fantine, Caleb Lagayan as Marius, Paige Blankson as Cosette, Ian Hughes as Thenarndier, Helen Walsh as Mrs Thenarndier, Nathania Ong as Eponine and Samuel Wyn-Morris as Enjolras deftly balanced in such a way to make the show the star. And the music, of course, soars and swoops and ties your heart in knots. It is one of the greatest scores in musical theatre.
It is a people’s opera which has enchanted the world because it is the world and that has never been truer than in this production where the colour rich casting truly reflects the colour rich audience.
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Les Misérables continues at Birmingham Hippodrome until 27 August, https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/les-miserables-2/
Reviewer: Peter Kinnock
Reviewed: 12th August 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★