To love another person, is to see the face of God’
Jean Veajean, Les Misérables
I’ve never imagined this – of all the world-class musicals our blog has featured, it would one day be graced by Les Misérables. Why? Because without a doubt, Les Mis is our family’s absolute favourite musical.
20 years ago, before Angie and I met, we each watched Les Misérables at the Singapore Kallang Theatre. A lot has changed since then but one thing remains – the indelible mark which this moving musical has left in our then young impressionable minds. So much so that when we visited New York in 2014 for our 15th wedding anniversary, we made sure we watched the new season of Les Misérables in Broadway (complete with our 6 year-old daughter in tow) and checked it off our bucket list.
So what do we think of this most recent production in Singapore? Judging from the full-house capacity and the standing ovation that evening, I dare say Les Misérables, the longest running musical in the world, is still captivating audiences’ hearts worldwide.
Why is Les Misérables such a phenomenal musical?
1. The timeless virtues
2. The songs, the moving music!
3. The acting
1. The timeless virtues:
Les Misérables (pronounced “Lay Mi-Se-Rub”) is derived from the famous novel of the same name by the French literary, Victor Hugo (who also wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame). Loosely translated, it means ‘The underdogs’. Though the musical is set against a semi-fictional background of the French Revolution, universal themes such as prejudice, discrimination, youthful idealism, self-identity, love and loss, justice versus mercy are situations we modern day folks can still resonate with. Perhaps the strongest theme is that of the triumph of hope and the human spirit. In essence, Les Misérables is a musical that could change your life…it did for us.
2. The Songs and the Music:
I don’t even know where to start with this. Les Misérables is one musical where it is so difficult to pinpoint a ‘theme song’. Though the most popular (and de facto theme song) would be ‘I dreamed a dream’ sung by Fantine in the early half of the musical, quite honestly, every other song in this musical with its touching lyrics and moving score, is capable to shine on its own. Virtually every song here is ‘goosebump good’. It was an added bonus to hear these famous tunes performed live by the orchestra! Here are some of our notable favorites: One Day More, Who Am I, Do you hear the people sing, A Heart Full Of Love, On my own, Empty Chairs and Empty Tables, Bring Him Home. You can listen to the samples of the songs here: http://www.lesmis.com/singapore/sights-and-sounds/music/
3. The Acting:
We love musicals because we believe the best actors not only have to perform live, they need to sing, dance and, for some, even prowl likes cats (Cats – the musical) or even roller-skate (Jesus Christ Superstar). For Les Misérables, it gets tougher because there are no fanciful theatrics; just pure acting and singing to bring the characters to life and carry the emotionally charged plot. More than any other musicals we have watched, Les Misérables requires a larger number of its key cast to carry their own scenes including little Gavroche. I cannot imagine the level of emotional energy each cast member has to summon each night to deliver their scenes. This alone makes the musical worth watching again and again.
Having been an ardent Les Misérables fan for over 20 years and having watched the launch of this new season live in Broadway in 2014, we dare say that the latest run in Singapore is just as good as that of Broadway’s…in fact, it was better for the following reasons:
1. The cast: It takes a quality cast to pull-off the world’s longest running musical (read: demanding). This is a top-notch Aussie cast complete with a top-notch live orchestra. Among the strong cast, we would particularly like to highlight the following:
a. Simon Gleeson: The lead that plays Jean Valjean. It takes a certain gravitas to play this character that carries the entire musical on his shoulder – from shame to salvation and then to saving lives. I personally preferred Simon Gleeson’s Jean than the slightly younger Ramin Karimloo which we saw in NYC. Double thumbs up for Gleeson
b. Earl Carpenter: The role of Javert – the inspector that crumbled under his own self-righteousness, is a pivotal character who carries the show. The casting of Earl Carpenter certainly lends gravitas and weight to this iconic role much more than the role played by Will Swenson in the Broadway production.
c. Kerrie Anne Greenland: Playing the role of Éponine is no mean feat – the woman who loved Marius but whose love was never returned. Her voice – so rich and full of emotions, shone like a beacon despite Éponine’s struggles with abusive parents and unrequited love. She’s a star!
2. The set: To me the set embodies what the updated version of Les Misérables – it is largely classical in nature: simple mechanical movements and typical musical sets (but still stunning nevertheless) After the intermission, the visual effects kick-in. We especially love (spoiler alert) the sewage scene as Valjean carries the injured Marius to safety.
3. The orchestra: To hear some of the world’s most famous musical tunes played live IS such an incredible treat in itself! No expensive hi-fi audio systems can replicate hearing the sweeping melodies and moving solos performed and sung live. Kudos to the orchestra!
In short, the latest Singapore run of Les Misérables is nothing short of spectacular. We can have an unforgettable time watching the world’s best musical at our very own ‘doorstep’ without flying to Broadway.
Is it suitable for children?
Apart from the slightly risqué lyrics (and action) in the song ‘Master of the House’, Les Misérables promotes wholesome, timeless virtues. However, its mature plot (involving the revolution, unrequited love etc.) may need some explaining to younger children. Strobes and gunshots (blanks) are also used in the 2nd half of the musical which may alarm younger children. It is best suited for children 10 and over but do explain the plot beforehand.
We introduced Les Misérables to Dana when she was 6 by using the DVD movie version (featuring Hugh Jackson / Russel Crowe and Anne Hathaway) so we can pause and replay some scenes with some explanations. This was before we watched the muscial together in Broadway. This time, at 8 years old, she understood and was able to appreciate the musical better.
Synopsis: Excerpt from http://www.lesmis.com/singapore/
PROLOGUE: 1815, DIGNE
After 19 years on the chain gang, Jean Valjean finds that the ticket-of-leave he must display condemns him to be an outcast. Only the Bishop of Digne treats him kindly and Valjean, embittered by years of hardship, repays him by stealing some silver. Valjean is caught and brought back by the police and is astonished when the Bishop lies to the police to save him. Valjean decides to start his life anew.
Eight years have passed and Valjean, having broken his parole and changed his name to Monsieur Madeleine, has become a factory owner and Mayor. One of his workers, Fantine, has a secret illegitimate child. When the other women discover this, they demand her dismissal.
Desperate for money to pay for medicines for her daughter, joins the whores in selling herself. Utterly degraded, she gets into a fight with a prospective customer and is about to be taken to prison by Javert when ‘The Mayor’ arrives and demands she be taken to hospital instead.
The Mayor then rescues a man pinned beneath a cart. Javert is reminded of the abnormal strength of convict 24601 Jean Valjean, who, he says, has just been recaptured. Valjean, unable to see an innocent man go to prison, confesses that he is prisoner 24601.
At the hospital, Valjean promises the dying Fantine to find and look after her daughter Cosette. Javert arrives to arrest him, but Valjean escapes.
Cosette has been lodged with the Thénardiers, who horribly abuse her while indulging their own daughter, Eponine. Valjean pays the Thénardiers to let him take her away to Paris.
Nine years later, there is unrest in the city because of the likely demise of the popular leader General Lamarque, the only man left in the government who shows any feeling for the poor. Marius, one of the student leaders meet Cossette briefly. It was a mutual love at first sight.
The Thénardiers’ daughter Eponine, who is secretly in love with the student Marius, reluctantly agrees to help him find Cosette, with whom he has fallen in love.
News of General Lamarque’s death circulates in the city and a group of politically-minded students stream out into the streets to whip up support for a revolution.
The students prepare to build the barricade. Marius, noticing that Eponine has joined the insurrection, sends her away with a letter to Cosette, which is intercepted by Valjean. Eponine decides to rejoin her love at
the barricade. In trying to return to the barricade, Eponine is killed.
Valjean arrives at the barricade in search of Marius. He is given the chance to kill Javert but instead lets him go. Valjean prays to God to save Marius. The next day the rebels are all killed.
Valjean escapes into the sewers with the unconscious Marius where he comes across Javert once more. He pleads for time to deliver the young man to hospital. Javert lets Valjean go and, his unbending principles of justice having been shattered by Valjean’s own mercy, he kills himself.
Unaware of the identity of his rescuer, Marius recovers in Cosette’s care. Valjean confesses the truth of his past to Marius and insists he must go away to protect Cossette but gives consent for the two to be married.
At Marius and Cosette’s wedding, Marius’s realises it was Valjean who rescued him that night at the barricades. He and Cosette go to Valjean where Cosette learns for the first time of her own history before the Valjean dies.
Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Misérables
Show Dates: Tue, 31 May to Sun, 24 Jul 2016
Tue – Fri: 8pm
Sat: 2pm & 8pm
Sun: 1:30pm & 7pm
Venue: Esplanade Theatre, Singapore
Duration: Approximately 2 hours 55 minutes (With 20 minutes interval)
Tickets, priced from SGD58 are available on Sistic website.
Disclaimer: We were invited to watch the musical for the purposes of this review. All photos are copyrighted to Les Misérables. All opinions are, as always, authentically ours. This is one musical you mustn’t miss!