Saturday, 10 January 2015

Les Miserables - Crown Theatre, Perth (10 January 2015)

The iconic musical officially opened in Perth last Wednesday and the reviews have been nothing short of spectacular. I had seen the show last year during its Melbourne run but couldn’t resist experiencing it again. Firstly, the music and songs are wonderful and I’ve had the Original Broadway Cast Recording on high rotation since that Melbourne trip; and secondly, I noticed a person who teaches at WAAPA exhort his students ‘past and present’ to see the Perth production calling it exceptional. Of course, there is a strong local connection with almost half the cast having trained at the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. There was something to be said therefore about seeing this incarnation in WAAPA’s own backyard. Besides, I was really impressed with the Melbourne production at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

I admit I haven’t been to what is now known as Crown Perth (it was still Burswood Casino last time I was there!) for quite some time. The previous event I had seen at the theatre was a Pink Floyd cover band re-enacting The Wall (I unsuccessfully tried to tunnel my way to sonic freedom). Putting aside such traumas, the Les Miserables behemoth has transferred nicely into its new digs. Initially though the vocals didn’t sound quite as rich to me, no doubt due to the different acoustics in the new venue. That settled down pretty quickly so maybe it was just me ‘getting my ear in’. The orchestra, however, as was the case in Melbourne, was terrific from the very first stirring notes. It is such a potent score and so much of the power and emotion comes from the music. Very well played and conducted.

There is much to like about this latest interpretation of Les Miserables, the storyline of which most people will have a passing familiarity with and doesn’t bear repeating here. I will list my personal highlights in no particular order, most being confirmation of my initial thoughts from last year.

Simon Gleeson is superb as Jean Valjean and for me the highlight remains his rendition of Bring Him Home which I don’t mind confessing had me a little teary-eyed this time around. The ageing process both in makeup and performance is also very impressive.

What struck me even more so today is how Hayden Tee’s Javert goes toe to toe with Valjean and is truly a formidable adversary. Having that balance right is critical for the main narrative through line in what ultimately is a very episodic story. Tee doesn’t take a backward step and is compelling as the dogged Inspector.

Kerrie Anne Greenland is a revelation as Eponine. In what will become a storied ascent, this is Greenland’s ‘professional musical theatre debut’ straight out of WAAPA. And what a debut it is. On My Own and A Little Fall of Rain are standouts as is her acting where we feel every inch of the wrenching dagger of unrequited love.

Lara Mulcahy and Trevor Ashley threaten to steal proceedings as the Thenardier’s every time they’re on stage with a wonderful sense of comic flair and chemistry. The bawdy Master of the House is followed by The Bargain in a sequence that allows the audience to laugh and ‘breathe’ after the trials and tribulations of Valjean and Fantine up to that point. Essential and bloody well executed.

Patrice Tipoki plays a character, Fantine, who falls so far so quickly that it’s a volatile arc condensed into a very short period of stage time. It therefore requires maximum emotional impact with I Dreamed A Dream the early crowd pleaser but Lovely Ladies is also a harrowing sequence under all the false bravado. Tipoki does this well and I especially liked her angelic turn at the end as Valjean finally finds peace.

Speaking of Lovely Ladies, the ensemble is so good throughout – adding vocal punch, colour and movement in other numbers such as At The End of The Day, Master of the House, The People’s Song, One Day More and Drink With Me.

Euan Doidge and Emily Langridge make for an engaging couple whose sweetness and naivety acts as another necessary counterpoint to the more bleak aspects of the story (and there’s a few!). Empty Chairs at Empty Tables is well handled by Doidge as is A Heart Full of Love with Greenland joining Doidge and Langridge as the romantic entanglements of the story come to full light.

The fine performances and musicianship is matched by inventive staging – from the sets that unfold to fill the space, to the use of projections (most notably the sewers under Paris and for Javert’s death), and the lighting and other effects that enhance the doomed fate of those on the barricades.

For rousing songs and sheer theatrical spectacle Les Miserables is hard to beat and this production has quality in every department. Having seen quite a few shows at WAAPA last year it is also exciting to see the path that many of those talented performers who have now graduated might follow given the number of alumni here. This is Australian musical theatre at its pinnacle so get along to see it if you can.

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