BWW Review: LES MISERABLES: THE STAGED CONCERT, Digital Download
Back in 2019, the former Queen's Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue was temporarily closed down to transform the building into the Sondheim Theatre and give its favourite tenant, Les Misérables, a major revamp.
While the creative team worked on the tweaks, a starry concert rendition was announced to open for a limited engagement just down the road at the Gielgud Theatre. Set up in the same fashion as the 10th and 25th anniversary celebrations, the show saw theatre titans and Les Mis alums getting together to deliver an astounding stripped-back presentation of the beloved musical.
Dream duo Alfie Boe and Michael Ball came face to face as Jean Valjean and Javert; Earl Carpenter proved himself a chameleon as the Bishop of Digne and Bamatabois; Matt Lucas and Katy Secombe reprised their roles as the Thénardiers; Rob Houchen's profound Marius made another appearance; and Cameron Mackintosh's protégé (and future Cinderella) Carrie Hope Fletcher graduated to Fantine, having previously played Eponine. Selected performances hosted the return of an additional veteran, with John Owen Jones substituting Boe.
In light of the latest catastrophic turn, Mackintosh has now released a digital download of the event. For every copy sold, the Mackintosh Foundation are making a separate donation to various charities who are helping artists keep afloat during these extraordinarily hard times. The film (directed by Nick Morris) is a chance for those who missed the immediately sold-out run to appreciate the acclaimed performances and spotless vocals from the cast, and for those who were lucky enough to experience it first-hand to relive the special landmark production. It also includes a few surprises, which will most definitely titillate all the hardcore fans.
The intimate affair looks grand and emotional in all the right places, with generally clever editing by Tim Thompsett which does, however, have a tendency to tip unnecessarily into the overly dramatic. While Thompsett's contribution might not be as consistent as one wishes, he is able to push forward the cinematic potential of the musical's gorgeous choral parts and highlight its chilling moments. This is the case, for instance, of Boe's arresting "Bring Him Home" and Shan Ako's heartbreaking "On My Own", which are as touching as they surely were in person.
Boe, as usual, shines in the concert environment, bringing out his powerful and complicated hero once more to be fronted by an exceptional Ball. His Javert leaves the scene with a heartfelt and deeply stirring "Soliloquy", which is perhaps the number which is done more justice by the film. The performer - who originated the role of Marius in 1985 - is transformed as the inspector, delivering the gut-wrenching reasoning behind his suicide with precision and heart.
Fletcher's short performance as the unfortunate Fantine is vocally monumental. She conveys a subtle fierceness even against the complete brokenness of her character, and her "I Dreamed a Dream" is stunning in its vulnerability and defeat. The sophisticated qualities of Ako and Houchen's voices complement one another superbly and Eponine's death comes off as deeply affecting, overcoming the limitations of the forward-facing setting that often forces the actors to stare into the darkness of the audience due to the microphone stands, instead of at one another.
Bradley Jaden especially is able to tear down this barrier with a fiery and achingly charismatic Enjolras. He draws the viewer in with ardent passion as he leads his student friends with Idealistic beliefs while his (blind) faith in their forces dooms them to their deaths. The younger cast is phenomenal in their examples of brotherhood, instigating in the public a desire to join them in their feat - only to break their hearts with those last resounding gunshots.
While their iconic demise was out of the question given the frontal approach of the production, the prolonged musical theme and undeniably great editing lands the horrifying moment with such finesse that it definitely grants a brief pause of the film to recover from the sobs. Along with this, every time the focus is on the orchestra feels special. Directed by Alfonso Casado Trigo, the 26-piece band sounds glorious.
The Thénardiers come to the rescue to lighten the mood and give the show that gleam of slight (but obviously positive) distaste that makes everyone else look like a paragon of goodness in comparison. Lucas and Secombe's established performance as the shifty couple is once again the perfect comedic relief. They ease the tension through their thick tricks and schemes, inciting unashamed laughs from the audience, prospering and pulling them to their side with their malicious inclinations.
Ultimately, Les Misérables could probably be served in whatever possible shape or form and it would still be a blindsiding success. By adding a lineup of accomplished and adored performers to the mix, the result is sublime. Always evocative and relevant, "Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise" is perhaps even more pertinent right now.
Photo credit: Michael Le Poer Trench