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'Every song is a triumph!' Our review of the 'unmatched' Les Miserables at Birmingham Hippodrome

For almost four decades the incomparable Les Misérables has taken the world by storm, and until August 27, it is Birmingham Hippodrome’s turn to bring this classic musical to the masses.

A still image from the performance.
A still image from the performance.

Surprisingly, its opening at The Barbican in 1985 received luke-warm reviews, but it was not long before common sense prevailed, and this resplendent piece of musical theatre became one of the most celebrated, emotional shows ever created.

Victor Hugo’s sweeping storyline and multifarious characters provide a complex yet compelling plot. France in 1815, and the poverty-stricken and starving Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s dying child and is subsequently arrested and jailed. Breaking his parole, he is constantly pursued by the sadistic police inspector Javert, who will stop at nothing to recapture the man he considers to be a criminal and bring him to justice.

A still image from the performance.

Later as a self-made man, Jean Valjean rescues the child of a dying woman, adopts her as his daughter and devotes his life to her happiness and keeping the promise he made to her mother. Yet the shadow of Javert looms large. Thus, a tale of honour, fear, righteousness, and love unfolds.

Producer Cameron Mackintosh definitely sees something exceptional in Les Misérables, as he passionately redevelops the production to ensure each updated version is fresh and exciting for the next generation and the latest UK tour is no exception. In terms of creative vision, there really isn’t anyone like Mackintosh and Les Misérables is without doubt his finest work.

The key to bringing Les Misérables to life is deep characterisation and of course talented performers with the vocal stamina to cope with a sung-through version of this intense period in French history.

Dean Chisnall offers an outstanding vocal and dramatic performance as Jean Valjean, living every moment of this most coveted role. Bring Him Home is naturally the standout moment of the show, but Chisnall delivers it with such passion it makes the heart swell.

A still image from the performance.

Rivalling him, is musical theatre stalwart Nic Greenshields, who lives his role as Javert, providing menacing drama whilst in exceptional voice.

Paige Blankson as Cosette has the voice of an angel and is perfectly complimented by Caleb Lagayan, who took the role of Marius at this performance, and is the ideal romantic juvenile lead.

Rachelle Ann Go as the ill-fated Fantine, breaks hearts with her wonderful rendition of I Dreamed a Dream and offers a vulnerable, intense performance of her role.

Newcomer Nathania Ong almost steals the show as Eponine and on the evidence of this performance has a huge career ahead of her.

There is some light relief thanks to superb comedic performances by Ian Hughes and Helen Walsh as the unscrupulous Thenardiers, who lighten the mood and bring a sigh of relief at every entrance.

A still image from the performance.

The whole cast make you feel as if you have joined them on the barricade, sweeping you along in the drama and power of the piece. It is rare to find such a talented group of people in one place at one time.

But the real star of this show is of course the score. Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel and Claude-Jean Schonberg have created a composition which can never be emulated. Having met Schonberg a couple of years ago, I can honestly say he is a unique, distinctive talent the likes of whom come along only once in a lifetime. Thus, a musical like Les Misérables materialises.

Every song is a triumph. From the all too familiar strains of the opening, to the finale of Act One, One Day More, which is as rousing as any national anthem and sent the proud audience marching into the interval with hearts racing.

From the emotion of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, the heartbreak of On My Own and then in contrast, the humour of Master of the House, this show has everything.

The tears fell long before the conclusion of the show, proving that Les Misérables has the power to move and stir emotion like no other. You could hear genuine weeping for the fate of the characters and the way the emotive music makes you feel.

Les Misérables remains unmatched, unsurpassed, and irreplaceable in the world of musical theatre, and as long as Cameron Mackintosh continues to share his masterpiece, it will leave a legacy for future generations of theatre goers now and forever.

Fight to the death for a ticket!

Runs until August 27. Visit birminghamhippodrome.com or call 0844 338 5000 to book.

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