- Kelly Apter
- 29 January 2019
This article is from 2019
Long-running West End musical brings down the house on UK tour
Finding the special alchemy that turns a good idea into a hit show is a constant challenge for theatre-makers. Almost 40 years after it premiered, Les Misérables is the longest-running musical in the West End and second-longest on Broadway. For that, there has to be a reason.
Yes, the storyline is dramatic: a parole-breaking ex-con trying to re-invent himself against a backdrop of revolution in early 19th century France. But that alone wouldn't fill the many thousands of seats on this UK tour alone, let alone the permanent productions – nor bring on the loud adoration and standing ovations at the end of each show.
The answer to this success story lies more in Claude-Michel Schönberg's incredibly emotive score, that stirs the heart with its opening bars – and keeps on stirring. Each clever throwback to an earlier melody or climactic crescendo leaves your eyes glistening, not with sadness (although the show is not without its poignancy) but with the sheer brilliance of it all.
Which takes us back to that potent alchemy that only musical theatre can achieve – the mix of music, lyrics, choreography and powerful harmonies you don't find anywhere else. Unlike some musicals, which are a revolving door of celebrities who can carry a tune to the edge of the stage and no further, Les Misérables is always populated with cast-iron talent. Every time a mouth opens, you know something incredible will come out – especially in the case of Killian Donnelly in the lead role of Jean Valjean, who seems incapable of producing anything other than a perfect note.
The hopeless despair of 'I Dreamed A Dream', hopeful desperation of 'Do You Hear The People Sing?', heart-breaking delusion of 'On My Own' and heart-rending plea of 'Bring Him Home' only work because the vocal chords supporting these iconic songs know how to reach out and grab an audience. Although it's not all heavy – the riotous 'Master Of The House' and 'Beggars At The Feast', by the horribly lovable Thénardier couple raise many a smile.
But if any song typifies why Les Misérables is lodged so firmly in people's hearts, it's 'One Day More' – the first act closer which is a masterclass in songwriting and performance, with the entire cast bound together in harmony, looking forward to a new dawn and all the pleasure and pain it might bring. Simply stunning.
See at Festival Theatre Edinburgh.