It’s one of the big ones. One of the big shows that comes to mind when you think of the West End. Les Miserables has been running in London for nearly 32 years now, and it is still as popular as ever. Its a story of love and friendship at its heart, a battle for power and the surge of revolution, fighting for a better life. With it’s sweeping score complete with some of the most famous songs in musical theatre songs, it is no surprise that Les Miserables is still standing strong in the West End and has gone on from London to take the world by storm.
Now well and truly settled in its third home in the west end, The Queens Theatre on the famous Shaftesbury Avenue and having just welcomed a new cast, I was excited to be returning to Les Miserables for my third visit. There is a swell of excitement when that powerful music begins, that famous melody that opens this equally famous musical. On all three of my visits, I have realised something. This show captivates and hypnotises it’s audience like no other show. There is no moving around in seats, no rustling of noisy sweet wrappers and no talking. Everyone sits engrossed in the action, completely in awe of this show and it’s incredible cast.
I was excited to be returning to Les Miserables ever since booking the tickets back in November last year, especially since I would be sitting in the centre seat of the very front row (can’t get any closer to the action than that), but I was even more excited when I saw the cast change announcement. The news that Killian Donnelly, fresh from playing the role of Charlie Price in Kinky Boots on Broadway, would be returning to Les Miserables to play Jean Valjean, was huge. I know that there was a lot of people in that audience there to see him, and on this incredibly hot summers day on which temperatures in the theatre soared, he absolutely nailed it. His voice is incredible, one of the best voices currently on the West End in my opinion. His performance of ‘Bring Him Home’ received the biggest applause of the show. Not only was his voice absolutely amazing, but his emotional performance had the audience in tears. He makes the role his own and leads the show with a skill and a talent that can not be denied. With this having been the third lead role I have seen Killian Donnelly play in three years, I am under no doubt that he is a star of musical theatre, to the highest standard and his portrayal of Valjean is definitely something not to be missed.
The rest of the cast were incredible also. Carley Stenson took playing the role of Fantine in her stride and her performance of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ was amazing. You really feel the quickly formed bond between Fantine and Valjean in Stenson and Donnelly’s portrayals, and I am sure that many tears were shred in their shared scenes. Another new cast member who took to the stage was Hyoie O’Grady in the role of revolutionary leader Enjolras, and wow, I think he was made for that role. He was able to carry the power of this famous character, as well as get the softer moments in which he speaks to his friends in their dark moments perfect. His voice filled the auditorium and you could really see him as this powerful leader, rallying the troupes for the battle of the barricades.
I also enjoyed Steven Meo’s performance as Thenardier, a character that everyone loves to hate. His portrayal made Thenardier both horrible and hilarious, particularly in ‘Master of the House’ and the robbery scene in which he comes face to face with the infamous inspector Javert. The inspector role was played by Jeremy Secombe, and this was the second time I have seen him take on this role. He is incredible, the power of his voice and the air of superiority he brings to the role is perfect. Quite a few people at stage door said that they found his portrayal of role quite scary which is fitting really.
As always, the set of Les Miserables works wonders. The rotating stage has become famous in its own right, a huge part of the show allowing one scene to roll seamlessly into another as well as adding to the impact of the character deaths on the barricade. It works particularly well in the moment which it turns to reveal Enjolras hanging from the barricades imposing structure. The set is used in genius ways, from the forming of the barricade to the use of the bridge in ‘Javert’s Soliloquy’.
In conclusion, Les Miserables is a work of art and I am sure that it will continue to captivate and thrill audiences on the West End for many many more years to come. A moment of the show that will always be the scene that stands out for me is ‘One Day More’, it is amazing and rousing, the hope in those characters at that moment. And from the front row, the flag flies over your head. An amazing moment. There is one thing I know for sure. At The Queens Theatre London, the revolution will be going strong for a long time yet.