Every non-English speaking friend of mine who lives in London, sooner or later, comes to face one of life’s greatest dilemmas: ‘what show could possibly entertain my parents, who can’t even spell their own name in English?’. Irene, one of my Italian pals, is planning to bring her mum and dad to see a musical, and our final call was Les Misérables.
I’ve seen the show just last Friday, after ages, and my heart is so full of love I am even writing terrible musical jokes. Opsie. Here’s my shamelessly overexcited review of the current production of Les Misérables, a written reminder of why choosing this show is always a great idea.
When it comes to certain shows, I simply refuse to say goodbye. I need to go back. And back. And, well, back again. Be it the alignment of planets or a change in the weather* , they come to fit perfectly into your life. Then, you move on into a new phase, and that show gracefully slips out of your routine. Until you find yourself going back after a year or so.
On Friday the 27th, after quite a challenging day at London Comic Con, I made my way to the Queen’s Theatre in full cosplay, and – shame on me – slightly regretting my life choices: I am a fan of standing tickets (£12.50), but the idea of standing for another two hours and a half wasn’t particularly thrilling. Being one of my favourite shows, I like to go and watch specific performances to see how different performers can play their roles. This time I was there mostly to have a nice theatre-time with my flatmate – a bit of a last-minute choice for me, to make the most out of my Saturday off.
And I cried for 150 minutes like my life depended on it.
The best word to describe this show is powerful: it blows you away, from the first note to the last line. You may think you know the soundtrack, if you have listened to some of the popular solos – like I dreamed a dream or On my own. Well, spoiler alert: they got nothing on the ensemble numbers; that’s when the music takes over, and also when you suddenly remember why productions with a live orchestra are the best. Sometimes it’s even hard to find the right moment to clap, because you don’t want to break the spell. Tam Mutu – a great performer and amazing Inspector Javert from a few casts ago – once said that he felt the most appreciated when the audience did not clap after his big solo in Act 2, as if they were so absorbed by the performance they forgot where they were.
The plot is a rollercoaster of misunderstandings – the highlights of one of the longest, most convoluted novels I have ever encountered (lovingly called ‘the brick’ by its fandom). I admit I had to go though the plot summary on the programme during the interval, on my first visit. It is not essential to know the backstory of every background dancer on stage, especially if you are going for a take-it-easy touristic evening with the non-English speaking friendly relatives mentioned above. What you must know, however, is that this is not about the French Revolution. French history is big on revolutions, but this one might not have earned a paragraph in your History textbook, so make sure you have a word with your friends and/or family before the show. Seriously.
My first memory of the show is the use of lights, although I knew – and still know – nothing about the technical aspects of lighting design. I guess that’s why I always thought that light designers are more like magicians: when you watch certain scenes, it’s like watching a painting coming to life – I always think Caravaggio would love Act 1. You won’t get the fancy dresses you might find in Wicked or The Phantom of the Opera, nor their majestic background: nothing sparkles in Les Mis, and yet everything is so alive. The fact that the whole stage keeps spinning and turning upside down does help to fuel this idea: considering I am the kind of person who squeaked like a 3-year-old overexcited kid when the dragon appears on Shrek:The Musical, a revolving stage is a pretty big deal for me. Make sure you never sit at the back of the stalls, you will end up missing the upstairs action.
Who might not enjoy Les Misérables, instead?
(As much as I find it hard to believe, not to mention personally offensive, yes, it is possible.) It might not be your cup of tea if you are looking for strong female leads; if you if you are a sucker for happy endings or love stories – there is a little bit of romance, but it’s definitely less impressive than the main plot; and, of course, if you have that one friend who doesn’t like musicals ‘where they sing too much’.
My personal opinion, however, it that Les Mis is still worth at least one chance. You got badass music, revolution, and a revolving stage.
What’s not to like?
[Written by Alessandra Cenni; edited by Alice di Mattia]