LES MISÉRABLES Continues to Evolve, Surprise and Succeed
Manila, Philippines--The original London production of Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil's musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel LES MISERABLES (LES MIS), which was Messrs Schonberg and Boublil's first collaboration with theater producer Cameron Mackintosh, opened to very mixed reviews from the critics in 1985. But "LES MIS has always been big for criticism," says Meghan Lewit for The Atlantic. "Bombast? Bathos? That's the point. The original production [which remains intact and continues to play at the Queen's Theatre in London until today] has endured because it gave audiences exactly what they wanted."
"...Audiences love LES MIS. What I find intriguing is that we think we live in a very cool, smart, cynical age. Yet, when the chips are down, what we really crave is a contest of good and evil, and lashings of spectacle," says Michael Billington for The Guardian.
Seen by more than 70 million people in 44 countries and 22 languages so far, spectacle-laden LES MIS has become one of the most profitable and longest-running musicals in the world--thanks to over 100 professional productions that have opened throughout the years. Thanks also to Britain's Got Talent's Susan Boyle, who earned a rapturous standing ovation when she sang one of LES MIS's beloved heart-wrenching ballads, "I Dreamed A Dream," in the reality TV talent show. In 2009, just in time for LES MIS's 25th anniversary, Ms Boyle's debut album, titled "I Dreamed a Dream," even became the UK's best-selling album of all time.
Mr Mackintosh says, "New audiences are discovering the extraordinary impact of this exhilarating and emotional musical tour de force while existing LES MIS fans come back again and again for more."
He adds, "So when we reached our 25th-year milestone, I was puzzling for some time on how to best celebrate this remarkable achievement."
Needless to say, the celebrated British impresario pulled off a surprise, not one but three! Three versions of the show were simultaneously performed in October 2010: (1) the original London production at the Queen's Theatre, (2) a back-to-back concert version of the show at The O2, which was screened in 142 cinemas in the U.K. and Ireland, 100 in Europe, over 600 in the U.S. and Canada, and over 180 in Australia and the Far East, and (3) and the reimagined production, which features Mr Hugo's previously unknown drawings and paintings as the projection scenery--replacing John Napier's original set design famous for its revolving centerpiece.
"Consequently, the best birthday present I felt I could give to Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's masterful and timeless creation, with its inspiring English words by Herbert Kretzmer, was a completely new staging as if the show was a brand new work," says Mr Mackintosh.
Just two years after, the reimagined production, which originally starred John Owen-Jones (Jean Valjean) and Earl Carpenter (Inspector Javert), also served as an inspiration for its stage-to-film adaptation, which won Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Best Makeup and Hairstyling for Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, and Best Sound Mixing for Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, and Simon Hayes at the 2013 Academy Awards. It also brought forth the 2013 Toronto revival production, 2014-2016 Broadway revival production, 2014-2016 Australian tour, and the 2016 Asian tour, which will kick off at The Theatre at Solaire in Manila, the Philippines on Friday, March 11.
In Mr Mackintosh's own words, "LES MIS is born again," which encapsulates the core essence of the reimagined production: a brand new way for the younger generation to discover, whereas for the longtime fans to rediscover, the theatrical phenomenon that is LES MIS.
What's New With The Reimagined LES MIS?
It's similar [to the original London production] but different. The story is the same; that goes back to Victor Hugo's novel written all those years ago. It's our job to uphold that. The changes have a lot to do then with the staging and in what you see--there's a lot of vibrant colors in the show now. In all of that, interestingly, is Victor Hugo's work; he was a very prolific painter. We used a lot of his original paintings as projections for backdrops and landscapes," says co-director James Powell in our sit-down interview in Brisbane, Australia--the show's last stop prior to its impending Asian tour.
In his production notes, scenic designer Matt Kinley recalls, "I had been vaguely aware that Victor Hugo was a painter as well as a writer, but nothing quite prepared me for the images that I came across when researching the show. Hugo was obviously a visionary; the drawings I found were at once both abstract, fantastical, and free but underlined with a backbone of draftsmanship. Hugo, as an artist, was well ahead of his time. There are many examples in amongst the 4,000 or so works that demonstrate his experiments with different media and processes from charcoal, sepia, pen, ink and soot to lace prints, folded paper with ink as well as straight responses to either landscape, figure, or the subconscious."
Mr Powell says, "It took, at least, a year of pre-production to reimagine this piece, particularly with scenic designer Matt Kinley and Cameron Mackintosh. That for me was the most exciting period, and everything was inclusive of Cameron. He's on board with all our ideas and, indeed, many of his own, which we all collaborated quite harmoniously together to get where we are today."
He adds, "The previous revolving stage was very particular to the original concept of the show, and the show's original adaptors Trevor Nunn and John Caird used it so beautifully. In fact, a lot of the original orchestrations by John Cameron were married to that because it had a very filmic quality: the stage would wipe, and you'd lose one scene; as soon as you'd lost that, you're in another scene. But now when I see the show, I don't miss the revolving stage. It has its own identity. For me, that's a very important thing."
Astonishingly, the new orchestrations in the reimagined production were the same orchestrations used in the Oscar-winning film.
"Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe, Stephen Brooker and myself took four years to update the orchestrations of LES MIS, which was originally orchestrated by John Cameron back in 1979 when we did the original French version," says Mr Schonberg in a previous interview with BroadwayWorld.com.
"We had to update the orchestrations, first of all, because we don't have 26 musicians in the theatre anymore. We have fewer musicians nowadays. In those days, in the late '70s, we had synthesizers and those old 'poppy' sound. We didn't want to use those synthesizers anymore. We wanted to update all of those things, at the same time, saving the best of what John did--the very brilliant moments; having a more contemporary sound, and using the technology of today."
Another Dream Cast
In every major undertaking for the reimagined production of LES MIS, Mr Mackintosh finds it a perfect opportunity to assemble a dream cast; its highly anticipated first Asian tour (Manila-Singapore) is nothing short of a casting coup, led by Earl Carpenter, who originated the role of Inspector Javert in the reimagined production, Simon Gleeson (Jean Valjean), Rachelle Ann Go* (Fantine), Patrice Tipoki** (Fantine), Helen Walsh (Madame Thénardier), Cameron Blakely (Monsieur Thénardier), Paul Wilkins (Marius), Kerrie Anne Greenland (Éponine), Emily Langridge (Cosette), and Chris Durling (Enjolras).
Michael Cassel, Mr Mackintosh's executive producer in Australia, says, "Because these productions are playing around the world and Cameron is so invested in the casts that represent his shows, the opportunity to showcase them in other cities is fantastic and has been great for the performers to undergo those experiences. It's a great opportunity for these artists and a great credit to Cameron and his team."
Now in its 30th year, LES MIS is an epic and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit. The show is known for its hit songs "I Dreamed a Dream," "On My Own," "Stars," "Bring Him Home," "Do You Hear the People Sing?," "One Day More," "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," and "Master Of The House."
LES MIS is written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. It has music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, original adaption byTrevor Nunn and John Caird and additional material by James Fenton. The original LES MIS orchestrations are byJohn Cameron with new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker.
The Asian tour of the reimagined production is directed by Laurence Connor, James Powell, and Christopher Key with set and image design by Matt Kinley and Adam Wiltshire, costumes by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland, lighting by Paule Constable, Richard Pacholski, and Simon Sheriff, sound by Mick Potter, Adam Fisher and Shelly Lee, and projections by Fifty-Nine Productions. Musical staging is by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt. Musical supervision is by Stephen Brooker and James Dodgson, and musical direction is by James Lowe and Geoffrey Castles.
Mr Mackintosh, Mr Cassel, and Concertus Manila are bringing LES MIS to Manila.
For tickets to LES MIS in Manila, visit TicketWorld.com.ph.
For tickets to LES MIS in Singapore, visit Sistic.com.
*Rachelle Ann Go plays Fantine in Manila (March 11 to April 17, 2016); while **Patrice Tipoki plays the same role in Singapore (May 31 to July 17, 2016).
Photos: Oliver Oliveros (1) Simon Gleeson as Jean Valjean in LES MIS-Brisbane, Australia; (2) Kerrie Anne Greenland as Eponine in LES MIS-Brisbane, Australia; (3) Co-Director James Powell on stage in Brisbane, Australia, (4) Patrice Tipoki as Fantine in LES MIS-Brisbane, Australia