BWW Reviews: All the Tears! All the Stars! A Moving DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING? in Shanghai
I blame the children. It is the sweetly stoic members of the Shanghai Honey Kids Children's Choir who send me over the edge. I have until now managed a modicum of composure - but when those kids march onto the Shanghai Grand Theatre stage for the finale of DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING?, joining with the Shanghai Opera House Chorus in a Chinese rendition of the concert's titular song, I immediately dissolve into an Oprah-worthy, full on ugly cry.
Here tonight in this Shanghai theatre I am experiencing first-hand how a stirring melody, combined with the economic beauty of a song lyric, can transcend boundaries of language and culture. A concert celebration of the musical genius of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, this entire performance of DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING? is an unexpectedly moving tribute to the universal appeal of their collaborations, and shows how LES MISERABLES in particular has impacted people all around the world.
It doesn't hurt that Australian-based producer Enda Markey has brought together a dream cast for the opening of his Australasian tour of DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING?. Markey has in fact gathered the brightest stars in the Boublil & Schönberg universe for these Shanghai concerts.
Marie Zamora appears to have Cosette in her DNA; she was the original Cosette in the Paris production of LES MISERABLES, and when Zamora sings I Saw Him Once, and In My Life she embodies Cosette. There is a delicate strength to her Eponine in Mon Histoire (the very first song written for LES MISERABLES, that would one day become the beloved On My Own), but it is when Zamora re-visits Cosette that she truly shines.
Zamora is joined in Mon Histoire/On my Own by Lea Salonga, whose defiant take on the English version of Eponine's song is a beautiful contrast to the wistfulness of Mon Histoire. Full disclosure: I have waited two decades to hear the original Kim from MISS SAIGON perform live, and I can confirm here for those who have not had the opportunity - Lea Salonga is flawless; the clarity of her voice is astounding, and she sounds as vocally strong as she did when she was first introduced as Miss Saigon. Her Too Much For One Heart - a beautiful song cut from the original MISS SAIGON - is a definite highlight on a night of many standout performances. Salonga so deeply engages with the song that she has to physically shake it off after. This little gesture is an endearing reminder of just how much these performers give of themselves to a song, and to an audience.
Later, when she plays it for fun in a rousing version of Master Of The House, I realise Lea Salonga can take an audience wherever she wants them to go. She is indeed a master of her craft.
It is Michael Ball who opens the concert, with a stirring rendition of Bui Doi from MISS SAIGON. If I've waited years to see Lea Salonga live on stage, I've waited even longer for Michael Ball. He is an international theatre star whose fans travel the world to see him perform, and when Ball plants his feet and lets loose with that distinctive voice, I appreciate why those fans come back night after night. He's just so good. I could let loose myself, finding a dozen superlatives to describe his talent, but what can you really say about a singer of Ball's caliber? You just understand why songs are written, and sit back and
But the real pin-drop, mouth open in awe moment of the night belongs to Australian performer David Harris. After leading the high-energy Master Of The House with Salonga, Harris switches gears and delivers a truly powerful rendition of Bring Him Home. There are songs that make a performer strive toward them, songs so beautifully crafted that they make great singers even better ... if they can rise to the challenge. Tonight Harris exceeds the challenge of Bring Him Home. I thought I was long past being surprised by this song, but I held my breath the whole way through his performance. David Harris is a leading man Australians can be proud to claim as their own. Continued next page.
Shanghai is a glittering city, but in this grandest of theatres, the simple set and amber-lit orchestra provide a lovely, unobtrusive backdrop. No bells, whistles or sleights of hand are required when the performances are this good. Conductor Gerard Salonga also deserves special note; the little brother to Lea energetically and comfortably leads the Shanghai Opera House Symphony throughout the myriad turns of a Schönberg score.
Peppered with anecdotes and insights into the world of Boublil & Schönberg, the only criticism I have tonight is a small and obvious one; some of the lesser known works presented suffer against the audience's anticipation for the better known songs of MISS SAIGON and LES MISERABLES. Impatience for One Day More aside, this was extraordinary night of theatre and I give it all the tears. Or all the stars (for the slightly less emotional amongst us!). A celebration of musical theatre's best and brightest, DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING? is a wonderful example of the impact and influence this art form has on audiences from all corners of the globe.
Sidebar: The above review refers to a night Amanda Harrison did not perform. The talented singer returned to the show on Sunday night, performing a stellar version of the new MISS SAIGON song, Leave Him? and providing further proof of the world-class talent of our Australian theatre stars.
SHANGHAI GRAND THEATRE in association with ENDA MARKEY presents
Boublil & Schönberg's
Do You Hear The People Sing?
27th November - 1st December, 2013
Shanghai Grand Theatre - Shanghai