To become the longest running West End musical of all time, you have to be doing something right. But given the vast amount of performers who have sung their hearts out in Les Misérables over the years, it seems fair to attribute the show’s global success to the man who started it all – Claude-Michel Schönberg.
Yes, Victor Hugo’s epic 19th century novel gives us a cast of diverse characters, Herbert Kretzmer’s lyrics are by turns moving and funny, and the talented cast is believable and full-voiced. But it is Schönberg’s music that grabs you from the first chord. The Frenchman’s monumental score never pauses for breath, this being the kind of musical where nobody speaks – every line is sung.
Following the complicated plot line isn’t always easy, especially the political nuances of the revolution, but let’s be honest, most people go to Les Mis for the songs. You could almost touch the air of expectation when Fantine stepped forward to sing I Dreamed a Dream (especially since SuBo herself was in the crowd the night I saw it – who, to my mind, does a better job).
Musical theatre is known for its jaunty jazz hands, but Les Misérables dares to be different. Aside from the despicable Thenardier couple (played here to hilarious effect by Ashley Artus and Lynne Wilmot, whose bra gets the best supporting actress award) it’s pretty much wall to wall misery, as the name suggest. But the glimmers of love and hope, and above all, the rousing numbers, ensure you leave the theatre with a smile on your face.
Edinburgh Playhouse until Sat 15 May