Born in 1985 from the genius collaboration of visionary producer Cameron Mackintosh, composer Claude- Michel Schönberg and lyricist Alain Boublil, the opus Les Miserables is presently hailed as the longest running musical in the world. Inspired by Victor Hugo’s 1861 classic novel, the show which according to Mackintosh first opened to lukewarm review, is the most performed musical – both professionally and in the amateur stage. Seen by over 70 million people, it continues to play in packed theatres attracting new audiences and bringing back fans who want to see it again.
Why has this production survived and thrived for as long as it has? Why does it continue to enthrall, excite and inspire? As Filipinos, we feel an affinity for Les Mis because it has featured many of our own talented thespians. Lea Salonga played both Fantine and Eponine on Broadway and London’s West End. Joanna Ampil followed in her footsteps with equal success. In its latest run, another Filipina gives life to embattled single mother Fantine. Rachelle Ann Go sang “I Dreamed A Dream” wonderfully at the premiere show last Saturday to the delight of the homecrowd. I must admit, though, that it was Anne Hathaway (as Fantine in the movie adaptation) who I kept on visualizing in my head. Perhaps I was expecting a rawness and desperation to the performance that Anne was able to deliver so poignantly.
Standout performances for the night included Earl Carpenter as the main antagonist Javert. –a dutybound police inspector bent on capturing Jean Valjean who broke parole many years ago. His death scene was both moving and visually arresting. Carpenter definitely did a much better job than the constipated version of Cameron Crowe in the movie. Yes, Simon Gleeson gave an impactful performance but it was Hugh Jackman’s heartwrenching portrayal that I will always remember. Kerrie Ann Greenland ( as Eponine) was another revelation. She sang “On My Own” so effortlessly. Greenland’s restraint made her portrayal even more palpable. The Master of the House (innkeeper ) literally had everyone in stitches. What a perfect fit Cameron Blakely was for the criminal-minded and scheming innkeeper Monsiieur Thernadier. His distinct raspy voice and antics made for severable enjoyable moments in the show.
At curtain call, the cast was met with a standing ovation and thunderous applause. Mackintosh and Schonberg joined the actors and gave short speeches. The lyricist ended his message by saying “Salamat Filipinas!”
No matter that The Theatre posed limitations to the set design by Matt Kinley and had to be scaled down (the projected images of Victor Hugo’s sombre works of art as backgrounds were phenomenal) or that the audio could be be much better (“Do you hear the people sing?” is a question that I wanted to ask the people seated at the back.) or that Chris Durling as Enjorlas sashayed instead of marched to “One Day More” – the Manila run of Les Miserables should not be missed.
To answer the questions I earlier posed as to why the show continues to exist, I daresay it is because of one simple truth. As long as people dare to dream, to hope and to love inspite of life’s seeming harshness and cruelty, the show will remain to be relevant. Les Miserables is a celebration of the human spirit – an absolute spectacle ,indeed!
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