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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Theatre review: Les Miserables is as good as it gets

There is such clarity to the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Miserables that not only will its fans see the story anew, but it will also undoubtedly introduce a new generation to this epic story.

Based on the sweeping 19th-century novel of love and redemption by Victor Hugo, this is the 25th-anniversary reboot of the original production. Its signature turntable design may have been replaced by a more traditional staging, but it has lost none of its power.

The nearly three-hour show is a huge undertaking, spanning some seventeen years from Jean Valjean’s release from prison to the final student confrontation at the barricades. The trick here is to keep the show in perpetual motion as it moves through its huge story, and this production delivers. Under the direction of Bill Millerd, this show never feels its 180 minutes, moving along at a break-neck pace without losing the emotional punch of Herbert Kretzmer’s rich and evocative lyrics.

A big part of this production’s clarity, and its biggest success, comes from this phenomenal cast. Through-sung, there is not a missed syllable, allowing the audience to be fully immersed in its massive story, and serves to heighten the impact of its gritty tale.

As Jean Valjean, Kieran Martin Murphy brings a heartbreaking reality to the transformed man, focusing his initial rage on the injustices of life in 19th-century France, and he uses that anger to fuel his spiritual revelation. With his powerful and crystal clear voice, the hauntingly beautiful “Bring Him Home” will bring you to tears, as much as his final scene.

As Javert, Warren Kimmel once again proves he is one of our city’s biggest musical theatre stars. Steadfast in his quest to bring the fugitive Valjean back to justice, he plays the internal conflict of his character with skill both in song and performance.

Sayer Roberts brings his wonderful voice to the role of Marius and makes love at first sight believable. When paired with Kaylee Harwood as the older Cosette, there is a spark that makes their relationship that much more realistic. But it is in his scenes with Jennie Neumann, who balances the brash older Eponine with her desire for love, that are heartbreaking. Neumann’s “On My Own” is a highlight of the night.

Jaime Olivia MacLean as Young Cosette and Kieran Martin Murphy as Jean Valjean. Photo by Ross den Otter.
Jaime Olivia MacLean as Young Cosette and Kieran Martin Murphy as Jean Valjean. Photo by Ross den Otter.

Rebecca Talbot is wonderfully tragic, and as she welcomes Valjean to his death, it is a stirring finale. Jaime Olivia MacLean as the young Cosette is a joy to watch as she is rescued from her bonds, and always a crowd pleaser, the pint-sized Cameron Andres holds his own among the more experienced players.

Andrew Wheeler and Nicola Lipman have the enviable task of bringing the Thénardier and his wife to life with a skilled balance of crowd-pleasing bawdiness and underlying wickedness.

Along with its strong leads, this production benefits from an equally strong ensemble that brings a glorious sound to the larger numbers. Playing everything from prostitutes to student revolutionaries they find their own clarity among their disparate characters. The rousing “Do You Hear the People Sing” and “One Day more” will have you ready to join them in their fight.

In keeping with its darker tone, Ted Roberts brings a palette of blacks and browns to the set, awash with Marsha Sibthorpe’s suitably gloomy lighting. With a cast of 24, it is evident there wasn’t a lot of budget left over to create a backdrop as grand as its larger-than-life story, but it is a small price to pay. Costume Designer Alison Green has both the challenge and dream job of dressing such a large cast with pops of colour against Roberts’s monochromatic set.

Bruce Kellett and Ken Cormier lead the surprisingly small six-piece band that belies its size with a sound that is as majestic as the story itself.

Thanks to its phenomenal cast and clarity of story, this Les Miserables is as good as it gets.

Les Miserables by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. An Arts Club Theatre Company production on stage at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville St, Vancouver) until August 16. Visit for tickets and information.

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