Jean Valjean – Adam Bayjou (understudy)
Javert – Hayden Tee
Fantine – Lucy O’Byrne
Eponine – Hollie O’Donoghue
Cosette – Charlotte Kennedy
Marius – Paul Wilkins
Les Misérables has the accolade of being the longest running West End musical in history, and watching the standing ovation at yesterday’s matinee performance, it’s clear to see why the show has endured for so long.
In 2015, Les Mis celebrated its 30th anniversary on the West End, having played over 12,750 performances since its beginning at the Barbican Theatre in 1985. Based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name, the iconic musical centres around Jean Valjean, a convict who has broken his parole and changed his name after being released from prison. He is now the owner of a factory, and finds out that one of his workers, Fantine, has an illegitimate child. For this he fires her, and forces her into a life of prostitution. However, he soon realises his wrong doings, and takes the dying Fantine to hospital. Fantine asks Valjean to look after her daughter, Cosette, who is living with the Thénardiers, an abusive couple who treat Cosette as a slave and indulge their own daughter, Eponine. Jumping forward nine years, a student named Marius meets and falls in love with Cosette, much to the dismay of Eponine, who is in love with him. A barricade is built by a group of students (including Marius) who are determined to begin a revolution. Eponine joins Marius at the barricade, but is shot and killed. Valjean then joins the students, hoping to save Marius from almost-certain death. Throughout the story, Valjean has numerous encounters with Javert, the police inspector determined to capture the convict. However, Javert’s unbending morality overwhelms him, driving him to commit suicide. A massacre at the barricade kills all of the students, apart from Marius who has been saved by Valjean. Cosette and Marius are married, before Valjean confesses his true past to Cosette, and shortly after dies.
With music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, Les Mis contains some of the most emotional songs ever written for a musical. I Dreamed A Dream, sung by the sublime Lucy O’Byrne, was a particular highlight for me. The desperation with which she sings perfectly portrays the character of Fantine. Having seen her play Maria in The Sound of Music last year, I was already aware of her vocal capabilities. However, the emotion with which she played Fantine proved her versatility as an actress as well as a singer.
In an incredibly dark and desperate story, the comedy relief is provided by Thénardier (David Langham) and his wife, Madame Thénardier (Katy Secombe). Their duet, Master of the House, is the perfect antidote for the tear-jerking songs the rest of the show comprises of, and received one of the biggest applauses.
Another notable performance was Hayden Tee’s portrayal of Javert. His voice is incredibly powerful, lending itself beautifully to a moving rendition of Stars, and earning another of the biggest applauses of the performance. The most powerful songs are arguably those sung by the whole ensemble, my favourite of which is undoubtedly One Day More, the song which closes the first act.
The spectacular sets, including a revolving stage (which plays an integral part in allowing the audience to see both sides of the barricade), are skilfully used without a hitch.
There are many reasons this show deserves the crown of being the longest running West End musical. It has been seen by over 70 million people all over the world, and will no doubt be running for a long time to come.