Nothing much has changed for Les Miserables over the past 33 years. The orchestrations have been tweaked to get rid of a lot of that jangly keyboard sound, casts have come and gone, it’s moved from the Palace to the Queen’s 14 years ago. That’s it really. It’s still selling out – and it’s still a stunner.
Throughout its life it has launched a lot of careers, and continues to do so now. With a couple of performers making their debuts straight out of drama school this titan is proving to be a seedbed for some pretty formidable talent.
Take Cosette, played by 2018 Arts Ed graduate Amara Okereke. She plays her with big smiles and bright bursts of energy and joy. She’s not a passive, sweetly-smiling love interest – Okereke makes the character more interesting.
With her intense use of rubato, delivering her lines at a skittering speed to give them an excited, jittery feel, she really gets across the sense of being caged; there’s a real feeling of youthful energy desperate to break out.
Though the production doesn’t feel stale at all, it’s certainly very familiar material. Yet Okereke manages to deliver these lines and melodies like she’s just thought them up on the spot. Like she’s the only one who’s ever fallen in love at first sight.
During A Heart Full of Love she marries so perfectly with Toby Miles, also making his debut as Marius, also straight out of Arts Ed (seriously, what are they putting in the water there?) and it’s joyous, rather than soppy. Not even mopey old Eponine can drag the mood down when the two of them are declaring their hearts full of love for each other.
Although to be fair to Elena Skye, she’s fantastic as Eponine, providing one of the best voices of the production alongside Bradley Jaden’s troubled, pensive, wonderfully melodramatic Javert.
Dean Chisnall’s Valjean relies a bit too much on speak-singing, but he brings some nice touches to the character. For one thing, he’s much more of an everyman than Valjean often is. There’s none of the sense of detached grandeur, the closed book. Who Am I sounds like he’s genuinely asking the question to the audience, rather than airily philosophising. The intimacy of his interpretation is refreshing.
Next year the show is moving out of the Queen’s for a while (which is a good thing as the claustrophobic auditorium has never really suited the epic nature of the piece). But for now, it’s still going incredibly strong.
There’s something about the chemistry between Miles and Okereke that really sings. Their smiles, amid all the gloom, find a way of making Les Miserables just a little bit less miserable.