Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg Lyrics by Herbert

Dates and Venue 14 May - 6 August 2009, Tues @ 7:30 pm, Wed–Sat @ 8 pm, Wed, Sat & Sun @ 2pm | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Director Bill Millerd Musical Director Bruce Kellett Choreography Valerie Easton Set Design Ted Roberts Lighting Design Marsha Sibthorpe Costume Design Alison Green Sound Design Chris Daniels Stage Manager Caryn Fehr

Reviewer John Jane

Alain Boublil and Claude-Michael Schonberg’s incredibly affecting musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables magically merges the powerful elements of redemption, romance and revolution.

Set in France, just prior to and during the Parisian June Rebellion of 1832, this multi-layered adaptation is firmly focused on the conflict between the heroic Jean Valjean, who through the story, transforms from fugitive to compassionate father figure, and the self-righteous Inspector Javert, who is obsessed with hunting down Valjean.

Kieran Martin Murphy (Valjean) and Réjean Cournoyer (Javert) are captivating as the central characters. Both possess an expansive vocal range and commanding stage presence. The vivid contrast between these two performances make this musical theatre piece an interesting morality play. Cournoyer’s balanced portrayal of the unyielding policeman was so effective that he received a special ovation from the audience during the curtain call.

Burly Edmontonian, Kieran Martin Murphy brought authority and nuance to the ballad, “Who Am I?” While in contrast, he moves effortlessly into high pianissimo on “Bring Him Home,” almost stopping the show at Wednesday evening's opening performance.

At times the show is a little guilty of pretentious ambition. So, the boisterous “Master of the House” performed by the Trénardiers halfway through the first act, comes as a welcome relief. John Mann and Nicola Lipman as the Trénardiers, provide comic relief in every scene as well as reminding us of the meagre life in the Parisian underworld. In particular, Mann, who has completed a successful conversion from rock musician to stage actor, delivers a deliciously over-the-top performance as the grasping innkeeper.

Rebecca Talbot as the ill-fated Eponine and Kaylee Harwood as the winsome Cossette deliver strong performances. Talbot is particularly impressive, giving a confident moxie rendition as she laments on her unrequited love of Marius, in one of the show’s best songs, “On my Own”.

Also worthy of special mention are young Joshua Ballard who is terrific as the urchin Gavroche and Jonathan Winsby, a favourite among Artsclub patrons, as the irrepressible revolutionary leader Enjolras. Ballard delighted the audience and practically stole the second act as the cocky narrator.

The production company scored a little promotional help via Susan Boyle’s appearance “Britain's Got Talent” and the subsequent YouTubeTM video. This may have created added audience anticipation of Fantine’s signature song, “I Dreamed a Dream” – if it did – it had no apparent effect on multi-talented Sara-Jeanne Hosie’s performance. Her own suitably spirited interpretation was truly heartwarming.

Director Bill Millerd’s slightly scaled-down version gives up nothing to the behemoth touring productions that have visited Vancouver over the years. Ted Roberts’ cleverly constructed set, combined with Marsha Sibthorpe’s dynamic lighting hardly allow the audience to notice the inadequate (for this production) Stanley Theatre stage.

Alison Green’s sumptuous clothing accurately represents time and place of early nineteenth century France and enhances the overall quality of the production.

The entire vocal content of Les Misérables is set to music in what cynics might describe as “Popera” and perhaps, for this reason, the show may not appeal to everyone. That said, 'Les Miz' brilliantly interprets the power of forgiveness and the destructive force of self-loathing. It offers a character mosaic woven onto a backdrop of human and political struggle that provides a compelling story line. It will no doubt continue to thrill audiences for many more years.

© 2009 John Jane