￼Watching Boubil & Schönberg’s Les Misérables, you tend to remember very quickly that, well, it really is a musical, and a sung-through musical at that. It’s really easier to ask “how long do they speak?” than “how much singing is there?” As a result, numerous first-time watchers make the famous complaint that there is indeed too much singing, without clearly defined spoken lines. Yet upon hearing the flawless musical exchanges in any scene, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the sheer coordination of voice and instrumentals.
Inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, set and screen are similarly impressive, with no time wasted in smooth and coherent transitions that bring a great deal of realism to the stage – the bleak, oppressive slavery of “Look Down” is grimly comprehensible upon the looming shadows of the ship and sea binding its weary prisoners, a memorable first image.
In the tale of a former convict’s bid to reform himself and escape from the law, Simon Gleeson presents a certain Hugh Jackman-esque quality, yet it’s certain that he brings a stronger depth to the voice of Jean Valjean. With similar vocal power, Hayden Tee admirably conveys the conviction of Javert to hunt down and devour – that is to say, arrest – his quarry, complete with frequent moments of awkward intensity between the two.
Meanwhile, it’s plain to see who reigns as Master of the House: Lara Mulcahy and Trevor Ashley don’t waste any opportunities to play up their comedic roles and leave a strong impression as the coarse, light-fingered and comically villainous Thénardiers. Chris Durling’s Enjolras is similarly striking in his role as charismatic student leader of the rebellion, and is supported by an exceptionally strong ensemble that doesn’t fail to stir hearts in asking “Do You Hear the People Sing” and evoke the raw tragedy of lives lost so early.
Despite somewhat pop-inflected performances, Emily Langridge and Euan Doidge don’t disappoint in the nervous anticipation that must precede Cosette and Marius’ declarations of love, with balcony and all evoking a Romeo and Juliet-like atmosphere – until you remember that the fate that these two star-crossed lovers (and those around them) suffer is considerably different. Éponine and Fantine also give more “poppy” performances even in their strongest opportunities to express their despairs, but still manage to inspire through their underlying strength.
With over 48,000 professional performances worldwide in its twenty-four years, Les Misérables might seem like old news. However, the Australian cast is sure to sweep up any in doubt with their unrestrained passion, and reveal how words – and song – are not only “mysterious passers-by of the soul”, but can stay within us long after.
Les Misérables plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre until October. For more information, check out the website here or book tickets at Ticketek from July 14. If you’re not from Melbourne, Les Misérables will head to Perth and Sydney in 2015.