BWW REVIEW: Packemin Presents A High Standard Pro/Am Production Of LES MISERABLES
Saturday 15th February 2020, 7:30pm, Riverside Parramatta
Claude-Michel Schönberg (Music), Herbert Kretzmer's (English Lyrics) and Alain Boubil and Jean-Marc Natel (both Original French) world famous LES MISÉRABLES is given the Packemin Productions Pro/Am big cast treatment at Riverside Theatre Parramatta. The musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's 1862 century novel about the lives of the wretched poor of early 19th century Paris and the June 1832 Rebellion is presented with the requisite emotional engagement and dramatic impact.
Most people with even the faintest interest in musical theatre will be familiar with the story and more particularly the musical which premiered almost 40 years ago in Paris (24th September 1980) so mounting a Pro/Am production is an ambitious undertaking given the success of global mainstage productions and the performers who have filled the leading roles over the years but director Luke Joslin rises to the challenge with ease. Much of the success of a production of LES MISéRABLES sits with the casting of protagonist Jean Vajean, his nemesis Javert, damsel in distress Fantine, young lovers Cosette and Marius, leader of the student army Enjolras and lastly the comic relief charlatans Madame and Monsieur Thénardier and their neglected daughter Eponine and thankfully Joslin has found a uniformly strong core cast of Daniel Belle, Robert McDougall, Matilda Moran, Georgia Burley, Brenton Bell, Noah Rayner, Prudence Holloway, Alex Cape and Emma Mylott respectively.
For this work, which features a forty strong ensemble and 19 strong orchestra led by Musical Director Peter Hayward, Joslin has opted for a staging more akin to the 2014 Australian tour staging with more traditional mobile flats and set pieces that can double for various locations. Given the story focuses on the grimy underworld of 19th century Paris, the aesthetic is naturally grimy stone and timber and the makeup and costuming certainly delineates the haves and the have-nots with blood, sweat and dirt smeared clothes contrasting with the vibrant textiles of the wealthy. Some of the more notable directorial choices that Joslin has made is greeting the audience with the doll that Valjean will eventually give Cosette standing disturbingly at the center of a bare stage indicating that he could be taking the work to a darker place, which he does to an extent in the degree of violence exhibited to the women of the story. The pace of ensemble pieces feel sped up which would be fine however it does affect the clarity of the text and a number of pieces are presented with the performer delivering to a point upstage, possibly to maintain eyeline with conductor's monitors that may be in the wings but it does cause a disconnect with the audience, particularly to the right of the theatre. The costuming choice to not have some more efficient method of holding Belle's fringe out of his face in the first scenes also proves distracting as he is either hidden by a curtain of hair or moving to rearrange it.
Joslin has opted to have the work presented with the same English accents as the original London production and the core cast maintain this well with variances creeping in with certain members of the female ensemble and Alex Cape's Thénardier who wander into broad "bogan" Australian which can be jarring against the other voices. While there were lighting issues with the attention of the follow spot operator missing their mark several times and sound issues of microphones not being cued on and off appropriately, this is a generally strong production.
Vocally and dramatically Daniel Belle delivers a solid Jean Valjean, drawing out the requisite emotion and gravitas of the role. Bring Him Home is Valjean's key piece and Belle captures the sentiment of the work with a beautiful vocal rendition although he could opt for more minimal movement and allow the music to do the heavy lifting. As Javert, Robert McDougall has the gravitas for the role and delivers a moving Stars and Javert's Soliloquy. Matilda Moran delivers a strong Fantine with an emotional depth that outshines the Australian tour performance as she ensures she is connecting with the story, not just singing a song. Similarly, Georgia Burley presents a compelling Cosette with a wonderfully pure tone whilst still retaining intelligible text which many performers forget in favor of operatic stylings. Of particular mention on the night reviewed is Noah Rayner's management of sound tech issues with his microphone, opting to forgo the handheld microphone handed to him in order to not destroy the dramatics of the scene and proving that he had the vocal capacity to deliver an unamplified performance which he did fabulously.
Well worth securing tickets early for the short season of what is Packemin's best production that BWW Sydney has reviewed.
Photos: Grant Leslie