Monday, September 18, 2017

Les Misérables, Smålands Musik & Teater

It's good, getting your autumn started with some top-quality Les Mis!

A little over a week ago, me and two good friends of mine traveled to Jönköping, Sweden to see the opening night of Smålands Musik & Teater and Kulturhuset Spira's new production of Les Misérables. Apart from the leading actors, this production (directed by James Grieve) is essentially identical to Wermland Opera's 2016 production I saw twice last year. So if you want to read my general opinions, check out my first and second 2016 reviews. In them, I talk about the direction and the visuals, no need to repeat that here.

Instead, a couple of impressions about my favourite performances.

I already wrote about this a while ago: my number one reason to see this show, and the reason I convinced my friends to come with me, was that the leading role of Jean Valjean is played by Alexander Lycke. From 2010 to 2012, he played the same role in Åbo Svenska Teater here in Finland. I loved that production with all my heart, so of course I had to travel to see this one too.

This is just so special to me. The relationship in between me and Les Mis, if you can use that word to describe the bond in between a musical and a person, goes deeper than me just being a fan of the show. After seeing it live 30+ times, it still hits me harder than any other musical. The ÅST production is especially important to me since it marks something of a turning point in my life. So you can imagine how exciting it was seeing Lycke in the role again!

Even so, it's nice that instead of a walk down the memory lane, this is a different take with all sorts of different details. I think Lycke's portrayal of Valjean has grown lots and lots – he was certainly good the last time, no doubt about that, but the character feels even more 3D and well-rounded now. I guess I have grown and changed during the past six years, too, maybe I now look at the character in a different way myself too. So, it's a little bit more grown-up edition of the character for a little bit more grown-up me.

I already knew that this direction treats Valjean well, giving him space and depth. This time, I especially loved... no, scratch that, I was especially heartbroken to watch the character growing older during the course of the show. No overblown makeup, just some different wigs and very good acting.

Compared to Christer Nerfont, who I saw and loved in Wermland Opera's production, I really can't say whose acting I prefer. I think Lycke's Valjean is a bit more undemonstrative and guarded. Seems like this dude hardly admits his own feelings to himself, let alone others, until they become too much to bear and burst out in a series of wonderfully beautiful songs.

And about those, I've said it before and I'll say it again: no one sings the part better than Alex. I've nothing to add to that, that's just how it is.

If Jean Valjean was good, Javert wasn't half bad either.  

Philip Jalmelid is the only Wermland Opera lead to reprise his role in Smålands Musik & Teater's production. Back in Wermland Opera, I didn't really agree with all the details of his performance. While my personal interpretation of the character is still quite different from Jalmelid's, I appreciate how his Javert has calmed down since last year, become a little more restrained. The character feels a bit older and a bit more realistic now.

Though really, if you sing Stars as perfectly as Jalmelid does, I won't care if the rest of your performance is delivered via sock puppetry. Finding the right words to describe this rendition of Stars – my favourite Les Mis song! – is hard. Jalmelid's take was powerful in Karlstad already, but now, experienced from the front row...

It was like his voice filled every single square inch in the theatre, squeezing air out of my lungs and all wandering thoughts out of my mind. After the song, I was honestly a bit startled to hear my own voice: for a second there, I forgot all manners and just made the highest and loudest sound I possibly could. I needed to get all that excitement and emotion out of my system somehow.

If Stars was the highlight of the first act, Bring Him Home was easily the best part of the second half. I of course knew what was coming, I have heard that one from the front row a couple of times before, but still, it never fails to amaze me. How does Alex turn the most boring tune in the whole show into its most beautiful song? No idea, but here we are again.

Another performance I really liked was Anna-Hanna Rosengren as Fantine.

I haven't seen a Fantine quite like this before: young, shy and withdrawn, but with a lot of fire under the surface, ready to flash out. And her voice! I Dreamed a Dream is easily the most overdone song of the musical, being covered left and right, but I got chills listening to Rosengren. (By the way! You can listen to her, and the others, in this Facebook video from the musical's press conference. The picture is sideways at first, but don't let that bother you, they sound great nevertheless.)

I really love how this production has Fantine and Cosette sharing a couple of little moments. They don't meet physically, but there's for example this moment during Castle on a Cloud where little Cosette and Fantine, now a spirit in the afterlife, sing the She says, Cosette, I love you very much line together. Maybe I'm becoming a big softy, but now, it made me even more emotional than last year.

Other than these three... Well, that'll have to wait until me and my friends go back to Sweden in December. I think I need another round of this before stating any opinions about the other characters. I only have two eyes and one brain, so I sadly cannot both stare at my favourites with unwavering attention and focus on everybody else all at once! Next time, I shall try to pay a little more attention to Enjolras & co.

But all in all, you know what? I love musicals, I love Les Mis, and sometimes life is very very good.

Photos by Lars Kroon.

1 comment:

  1. The way you describe hearing a perfectly wonderful rendition of a song is just spot on... how all the wandering thoughts just stop.

    And it's another cool thing about theater... that your perceptions can change as you grow as a person.

    Sounds like a great experience, and I'm glad you're going back, because something like that needs to be seen a couple times. You're very right... you can't see everything in just one go!