This through-sung musical by Alain Boulblil, Claude Michel Schoenberg and Herbert Kretzmer, rapidly approaching its 11th birthday never seems to lose its magic. It is the story of Jean Valjean, who has broken parole and is perpetually hunted by the policeman Javert. There are several sub-plots and though complex, the piece is exceptionally well constructed and the three and a quarter hours flew by.
The credit for the fast pace of the production is attributable to three main factors, the exceptional direction of John Caird and Trevor Nunn, John Napier's well designed and mostly simple composite set, and David Hersey's superb and creative lighting plot, all of which complimented one another exquisitely. It was nice to see that although the production had been running for many years and had therefore been through several cast changes, the current level of enthusiasm and energy was high as that of the original cast.
The central role of Jean Valjean was played by the French-Canadian, Robert Mariene, who has a heavenly voice, full of emotion, powerful at just the right moments, yet tender and compassionate when needed. Skillful phrasing ensured that his version of Bring Him Home had the audience mesmerized. Michael McCarthy was excellent as Javert. This is a complex and demanding role, he sailed through it with ease. I saw him in the same part some years ago in Dublin, he has improved beyond measure.
One original cast member was in the show, Frances Ruffelle, playing the role of Eponine which she created in the original London Production, and also on Broadway. She has a fabulous voice, but has developed a unique style, which is not right for the role, and does not blend with other's in the cast. In the love trio"A Heart Full of Love", she drowned out Marius and Cosette, and the harmonies lost some of their magic.
There were a number of understudies performing on the evening I went, Carmen Cusick and Norman Bowman as Fantine and Marius (covering for Grania Rennihan and Mario Frangoulis) both gave good, confident performances. Michael Magee as Enjolras (usually played by Glyn Kerslake) was superb.
Mandy Holliday as Madame Thernadier had the audience laughing from her first line, and it then just got better and better. She is an excellent comedy character actress who is well suited to this type of character role. She has mastered the art of being funny without turning the show into a pantomime.
The youngsters in the cast didn't let the side down. Luke Strain as the street urchin, Gavroche was a favourite of the audience, he was feisty, humourous, and full of character. Young Cosette was played by none other than Eliza Caird, daughter of director John Caird and Frances Ruffelle.
If you have never seen this show, you really are missing out, it is truly one of the best modern musicals to be seen in the West End, and I have no doubt that it's birthday next month will be nowhere near it's last!
Review by Jason L Belne
16th Sept 96