Monday, August 8, 2011

Three Days of West End: Les Mis

I don't think I'll review the musicals I saw in chronological order - Ghost was a short review, but Les Mis and Love Never Dies are quaranteed to make me rant, so I'll write them out of the way and finish with a little more neutral The Phantom of the Opera.

It's been a while since I saw Les Misérables in London the last time. So, the beginning was another emotional moment for me, tears all over once again when the Overture started. Sniff. I sat in the Grand Circle as always, so the the stage was a bit far away, but it was okay. One day, mind you, I'll get the best seats to every performance. One day.
Oh well.
I think I'll do this review character by character, it makes the most sense that way - you don't really have to hear what I think of the show itself anymore, so I'll skip to the interesting parts!

Jean Valjean - Jonathan Williams
At first I was the tiniest bit sad when I found out I wouldn't get to see Alfie Boe as Valjean - I had really liked his voice in the DVD. But a couple of people told me not to worry, since the alternate Valjean is really amazing.
Now I agree with them, one hundred percent.
As I might've mentioned, Valjean is a character I don't feel for easily. Williams's Valjean, then again... He wasn't so much an actor playing Valjean to me, like everyone I've seen before has been to some extent (well, everyone I remember seeing - the first two times I saw Les Mis in London are a bit blurry around the details), he actually was Valjean. The character felt more real to me than ever before. And his voice was so good, too: his was one of the best Bring Him Homes I can remember. I especially enjoyed his moments with little Cosette, they definitely were the cutest little Cosette and Valjean pair I've ever seen!
I really didn't regret that I didn't see Alfie Boe one minute. I doubt he could've been any better than Williams.

Javert - Hadley Fraser
Hadley Fraser plays Grantaire in the 25th anniversary concert, so I was of course very curious to see his Javert. Sadly, I can't say I would've liked his performance that much.
First of all, despite all the makeup he looked a bit too young to be Javert. He's 31 years old, but the role could easily be given to someone twenty years older... That's not my main problem with Fraser's Javert, though. Just as white Thénardiers can have a black kid in Les Mis, it just needs a little suspension of disbelief to accept a young Javert.
The real problem is that Fraser's Javert was constantly really! really! really! angry! I mean really, unreasonably angry, and I mean all the time. There wasn't a scene he didn't seem irritated at the very least, even his Stars was a bit mad somehow. He almost made me laugh when he chased the people off the stage before Stars with a huge "RAWR"... And, as you can guess, the turmoil in his mind during Soliloquy didn't have a big impact since we hadn't seen him calm and collected at all.
I think this is at least as much the fault of the director's as it is of the actor's, though. I've a hard time believing a performance like this would've made it all the way to onstage if the director had paid proper attention to Fraser. Maybe the celebrity stars, Alfie Boe and Matt Lucas, took too much of the director's time and attention?
But yep, I'm afraid I have to say I missed home and Sören Lillkung a tiny bit during Javert's parts here.

Marius and Cosette - Craig Mather and Lisa-Anne Wood 
These two, then again, I liked a lot! They made a cute couple: Wood was a lovely, sweet Cosette, and Mather had that adorable awkwardness down nicely.
But seeing the original Les Mis after two years' break and after being pampered with the Finnish production the whole last year... I was harshly reminded of how bland Cosette's part is in West End. Very, very bland, to be precise.
Contasting to the ÅST version... Around here, Cosette has a colourful dress and a personality: we know she's a bit vain because she models on a new hat in her garden, but we also see that she has a sense of humor when she mocks Marius with the "my name is Marius Pontmercy" part in Every Day, which sadly has been cut from the original. The original Cosette, then again... A dress so black and conservative just her head and collar pop out of the darkness, no chances to establish any character whatsoever.
And, also, Marius and Cosette haven't many chances to really show their chemistry with the original blocking. In Finland, they share a waltz in the garden, and seal their part of One Day More with a passionate kiss. Here, they touch palms. I wish they had a little more moments in the London production, they're great characters and deserve better!

Éponine - Alexia Khadime 
Khadime was one of the modern, R'n'B sort of Éponines familiar to us from the 2010 Live! CD. I loved that since, as you know if you've read my album comparisons, I really like the Live! Éponine's voice, and, out of context, the riff in On My Own is to my liking. But I can see this dividing opinions - as someone pointed out last week, the more modern Éponine is, the more the audience, especially the young part of it, will identify with her and dislike Cosette.
But still, I liked Khadime's Éponine. I'm not a huge fan of the character, so it's enough for me On My Own sounds amazing, and hers did!

Fantine - Caroline Sheen
Going to explain my opinion with the good ol' "ÅST does everything better than you, and you can smell the scent of roses in the air there too" card again, but yes, I'm not a huge fan of Sheen's. Her acting was fine, but her voice just doesn't, in my opinion, hold a candle to Finnish Fantine's, Thérèse Karlsson's. This is of course a matter of opinion with not much rationalising behind it, just like my thoughts on Éponine, so you might think quite differently.

The Thénardiers - Matt Lucas and Leanne Rogers or Lucy Garrioch
The Thénardiess was played by an understudy, but I didn't catch her name - feel free to educate me about her identity!
Now I understand the disgust some fans have towards celebrity casting, I admit.
It's not that Lucas would've been totally bad in the role - we get to that in a minute -, it's more the audience's reaction. He got a huge applause when he appeared onstage. I don't like applausing an actor when they appear onstage at all. They haven't done anything yet, what are you cheering for! Maybe, if it's a senior theatre veteran like Angela Lansbury for example, it's a nice to give them a round of applause when they enter. I appreciate your amazing career, it's good to see you performing still, that sort of thing. But applauding an actor because they're familiar from TV or movies? No, I don't see why. Also, Thénardier getting as big an applause as Javert and Valjean? Huh?
But to the point. Lucas really nailed Thénardier's funny parts, making them as disgustingly funny as you could hope. But, in my eyes, he very much failed Dog Eats Dog by making that a comic number too. Why would you do that? It hasn't a single line that's meant as a laugh-out-loud joke, so why make it funny and keep Thénardier an one-sided clown instead of deepening his character?
Mme T. was great though - I'm so sorry I don't know who she was, but she was really good!

Enjolras and posse - Liam Tamne and co.
I've no complaints about any of these guys - Tamne was a nice Enjolras and Adam Linstead was a great Grantaire (in my opinion he looked just like Grantaire should, I think I'm adopting him as my new mental Grantaire!). I can't, sadly, say much about the barricade boys' interactions or adlibs, which are of course crucial to distinguish the good from the amazing, since I was up in the Grand Circle and didn't hear or see that many subtle details, so I'll just leave it at that they were very good.
One request though: couldn't someone train them to say Enjolras some other way than "Enjolr-ass"? I've so immature sense of humor it makes me laugh.

For the first time in my life, I actually stagedoored! My friends, with whom I travelled, weren't exactly keen on the idea, but I went to Les Mis without them. After calling them and finding out they're still in a movie theatre, I gathered my courage and went to the stage door. Thanks to Matt Lucas, there was a huge bunch of people, but I wasn't really interested in his autograph. Instead, I got Hadley Fraser's, Liam Tamne's, and Jonathan Williams's, with whom I'm posing here (look at me, I'm almost smiling! I'm starting to learn how to do this photograph thing).
I gushed like an insane fangirl, of course, but Williams was so nice I didn't feel too embarrassed. Heh, maybe after a couple of dozen of instances like this, I'll learn to behave myself around amazingly talented people, but I'm afraid that day is still far away...

All in All
Okay, here it comes... 
I have to say, even though the grandness and the beauty of the original production blew me away once again, I still like the ÅST production a tiny, tiny bit more. It's simply because the Fennoswedish cast is stronger. There's not a single weak link there. If a couple of them didn't know what they're doing in Åbo, I'd prefer the original production. I adore London's visual parts, the huge ensemble, the beautiful barricade and the big orchestra...
If I only could live near to both!

And hey, congrats once again to the guy whose friends sung Happy Birthday to him before the show started!

The ensemble picture isn't of the cast I saw, the individual pictures are. Neither are mine: the former is from Google images, the latter I've scanned from the souvenir programme I bought. Thanks for the nice girl at the stage door for taking the last picture!

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