Stage Les Miserables review (Capitol Theatre, Sydney) By Ben Neutze | March 27, 2015 | ★★★★★ ★★★★★ Les Mis is a famously long show. I’m not going to take up space reciting the story of Jean Valjean and the pre-French revolution uprising, because it would take a lot of space to unknot the plot for readers, and anybody with a passing interest would surely have a vague understanding by now. It runs for almost three hours, which is necessary given how much of Victor Hugo’s epic it covers, but also pretty much unheard of in modern commercial theatre. If producers were concerned that their audience’s attention span was shrinking when they opened the English version of the show in 1985, they must be now terrified of letting their audience become bored. The new local production, which opened last night at the Capitol Theatre, seems desperate to make sure you don’t realise that it’s a “long show” by rushing through almost every poignant moment at breakneck speed. It’s impossible to know exactly whose fault that is. Is it the international directors Laurence Connor and James Powell, who have created a smart new production which has done away with the famous revolving stage of the original and uses beautiful projections inspired by Hugo’s illustrations? Is it Christopher Key, the associate director who has whipped the show into shape for Australia? Is it Geoffrey Castles, the musical director and conductor who sets the flying tempos everybody onstage is required to keep up with? Castles is holding the baton, but I’m sure the directive to “keep it snappy” came from somebody in a higher position. Producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, maybe? And it’s not even a musical problem — the score survives and sounds gorgeous at that pace with its updated orchestrations — it’s a dramatic one. Being a completely sung-through musical, the actors (and the audience) are required to jump from thought to thought and moment to moment at an impossible speed, squandering most opportunities for a thought or character arc to develop. Even the deaths feel rushed, particularly in the usually quiet and reflective A Little Fall of Rain, which after a fairly relaxed first verse races towards the finish line. Why not just give it a few more minutes to breathe? Nobody is going to care if it tips just over the three hour mark and suddenly feel the musical was interminably long. Given the rapturous response it’s receiving, I’m sure that won’t be a problem for most people who feel the show. But I felt nothing — I was never given a moment to — and if you’re not feeling anything in Les Mis, you’ve got to ask what’s gone wrong. While it’s not necessarily a “great” musical — the lyrics are often awkward, the score is lush and iconic but not particularly inventive, and you can sometimes feel the weight of Hugo’s novel holding back the storytelling — it usually pushes all the right buttons. The real tragedy of this Les Mis is that there’s an excellent production and an excellent cast struggling to get out. Given that the show itself is the star, there’s no undignified stunt casting here, just the right people for the roles. You couldn’t hope for a better Jean Valjean than Simon Gleeson, who embodies the character’s noble and simple, heroic qualities while holding absolutely nothing back, vocally. Thankfully he, at least, has enough stage time to trace his character’s journey from the convict on the run to the old man who turns his life around with love. Hayden Tee is staggeringly good as Javert and his glorious take on Stars received a huge response on opening night. Tee doesn’t have the same darkness of vocal tone as most actors who play the role do, but delivers a dramatic performance so strong and detailed you can easily forget any Javerts who went before. Patrice Tipoki is an excellent fit for Fantine and floats effortlessly through I Dreamed a Dream but doesn’t really get the chance to colour in her take on the role with enough nuance. Chris Durling is charismatic as Enjolras and delivers a commanding, assured vocal performance. I’m sure many in the audience would still have the breakthrough performance of Anthony Warlow in that role in the original Australian production fresh in their minds, and that Durling doesn’t pale in comparison to those memories is no small feat. Euan Doidge’s Marius and Emily Langridge’s Cosette are full of youthful energy, even if they don’t exactly set the stage on fire. Kerrie Anne Greenland fares much better as Eponine, bringing new life to On My Own and breaking hearts in her final moments. And, finally, Trevor Ashley and Lara Mulcahy come close to stealing the show as the Thenardiers (as all good Thenardiers should). They find new comedic beats and emphases and bounce off each other brilliantly. Unsurprisingly, they seem to be given more room to move and play within the score. I suppose the creative powers that be decided the audience would be more patient during the comic relief. I really wish I could love this production, and I wish it fulfilled its potential to move and inspire. It’s beautiful to look at and listen to, but just proves how elastic these unsinkable mega musicals from the 1980s can be and how one problem can fundamentally throw a musical off balance. [box]Les Miserables is at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney until July 12. Featured image by Matt Murphy.[/box] Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Ben Neutze Ben Neutze is Deputy Editor of Daily Review. He has previously written for Time Out Sydney, The Guardian Australia and Limelight Magazine.