Starting the new year with a storm, Les Mis opens its tour to thunderous applause. The theatre phenomenon is back with its new production and a cast as spectacular as its score.
Opening in London in 1985, this tale set in the French Revolution, was not received well by critics. However, through word of mouth, the musical gained a loyal fanbase and raised the show to its current status as a household name and the longest running West End show. Fans will know that the original staging has been updated, with some devotees being of the opinion that “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”. After seeing the new production (directed by James Powell and Laurence Connor), I can honestly say that it feels fresh, revived and still as epic as ever. And controversially, I don’t miss the revolve!
This production is more plot focused and fast-paced than I remember of the original. The incredible sets by Matt Kinley swiftly transition us through nineteenth century France, with alleyways and shadows evoking the dark and dangerous times. Astonishing projections and painting-like backdrops are also a welcome addition to this exciting new look.
The orchestra fill the theatre with anticipation from the first chords, and with every song the significance of musicians in the theatre hits home. The classic score of Claude-Michel Schonberg is loved and revered by the masses, and this cast does not disappoint in their performance of these beloved tunes.
The true star of the piece is leading man Dean Chisnall. The mammoth task of playing the protagonist, Jean Valjean, seems to come easy to Chisnall (Blood Brothers, Shrek). With a soaring range and a riveting performance, it’s hard to believe that I saw the same actor fifteen years ago getting laughs and dancing around in a Take That musical. His emotive range is ridiculously compelling and even though I did fully enjoy his performance in Never Forget, I can’t help feeling he is cut out for more dramatic roles such as Valjean. Taking his bow with tears in his eyes, the audience erupts in applause and a standing ovation, for which he utterly deserves.
Opposite Chisnall is the equally commanding Nic Greenshields as Javert. The duteous inspector, played with a formidable presence by Greenshields (Young Frankenstein), hunts down the convict, Valjean, and ultimately questions his own assumptions of the world.
Katie Hall (Candide, Oklahoma!) as Fantine is sublime. Hall plays the “virtuous” Fantine as both vulnerable and powerfully passionate. Her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream showcases her gorgeous vocals, alongside her praiseworthy acting chops.
The rousing performance of Samuel Wyn-Morris (Les Misérables – The Staged Concert) as Enjolras leads the young revolutionists to their fate, but thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. The breath of fresh air comes from the gruesome Thénardiers, played hilariously by Helen Walsh (Man of La Mancha) and Ian Hughes (The Thirty-Nine Steps).
This particular night, I was lucky to witness Jenna Innes (A Spoonful of Sherman) as street-smart Eponine. Innes’ performance is made even more impressive when learning that only a week ago she performed Fantine in the West End production with just three hours’ notice. Another example of understudies being the real heroes of theatre, making sure that the show can go on.
A mention for each and every actor would be impossible but, trust me, they deserve one. The brilliantly sung anthemic tunes, and the story told with such heart and passion make an unforgettable night at the theatre. So please, don’t wait One Day More, go and see this show!
Les Misérables continues at the Empire until 22nd January https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/les-miserables/liverpool-empire/
Reviewer: Coral Mourant
Reviewed: 8th January 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★