Fifteen years after it opened I finally got round to seeing the self proclaimed 'Worlds Favourite Musical'. Being a musical nut, it may seem strange that in the past ten years I have seen most of the big shows (many of them on more than one occasion), but never even considered watching 'Les Mis'. In my defence, my father highly recommended the show to me some 12 years ago and I have probably sub-consciously avoided it thinking I couldn't possibly enjoy something that the 'old man' liked. But enough of this psychological clap-trap and on with the review. As soon as I entered the wonderful Palace Theatre I knew immediately I had been wrong all these years. Mingling with my fellow audience in the rather small (little moan) Dress Circle bar I sensed an air of excitement and expectation that I had not witnessed before at previous musicals. I knew then that this show was going to be something special and I hadn't even heard a note sung in anger yet. With the adrenalin pumping through my vains (what it must be like to perform in this show) I took my seat and settled down for the most enjoyable three and a bit hours of my life.
Simon Bowman as the lead character VALJEAN was very good. He portrayed the changes in Valjean from hopeful ex-con to embittered thief to eventual compassionate foster father with such understanding it was a joy to behold. He acted his songs rather than just sang them and despite not being able to sing some of the high notes, as mentioned in the previous review, the score has been changed to suit his voice and the musical as a whole does not suffer because of it.
In contrast to Bowman, understudy Paul Monaghan as JAVERT was not animated enough during most of his songs and a little too stiff and rigid for my liking (even for a policeman). His main problem however is that he has too sweet a voice and too angelic a face to be totally convincing as the baddie. That said, his singing was first class and his amazing 'suicide' proved to me that he deserves a bigger role than the Bishop (his normal role in the show) - perhaps a future Valjean?
Joanna Ampil is stunning as Eponine, perhaps a little too stunning as I found it difficult to believe that Marius does fall for her charms. Her death scene in the arms of MARIUS (Niklas Andersen) was so moving most of the audience were reaching for their Kleenex. Andersen himself proved to be a very effective Marius. He had a strong voice and gave a suberb rendition of 'Empty Chairs'. The remaining lead characters all gave good performances and were played by Paul Manuel (ENJOLRAS), Rebecca Thornhill (FANTINE), Zoe Curlett (COSETTE) and Mandy Holliday (MADAME THERNARDIER). Barry James deserves particular mention for his nasty drunken portrayal of THERNARDIER.
Backing the lead characters were faultless performances by the orchestra (often taken for granted and forgotten about) the ensemble, and stage crew, which all contributed to a magnificent evenings entertainment. My only criticism is that Valjean looked far too young at the start of the show, which meant by the interval he looked middle aged instead of old. As the entire second act is set in the same year as he dies, he shouldn't age at all, however in his death scene he looked like he'd aged thirty years in a matter of weeks. By making him look middle aged at the start (he has just been in jail for 19 years after all) they could avoid this sudden ageing process and give more credibility to the lines about him being too old to fight at the barricades. This faux-pas by the make-up department however, did not spoil my enjoyment and I can thoroughly recommend 'Les Mis' to anyone who hasn't seen it yet (or was I the last). I can assure you all that having waited 15 years to watch it first time around, it definitely won't be 15 years before I watch it again!