Les Misérables – Twenty-one years on and you can still hear the people sing.

ReviewsGate team member, Geoff Ambler, reports back on a very special theatre event. Read on . . .As Trevor Nunn said, it’s a musical with "miserable" in the title, performed by the RSC, about French history, with 29 on-stage deaths, no dance numbers, no sequins, no fishnets and no reality TV show to help them cast it; then it had truly terrible reviews. It was going to be lucky to last the eleven week booking period. This week-end the London production of Les Misérables became the longest running musical in the World.

The occasion was marked by a event at the end of the record breaking evening performance on the 7 October 2006 reuniting the original cast from the 1985 production on stage, for a ceremony in which Colm Wilkinson and Trevor Nunn spoke about the staging of a show which was voted Britain’s favourite last year.

The assembled cast appeared on the turntable stage swapping positions with the current cast, who had just received a worthy extended ovation from the crowd of fans and theatre notables. As they slowly turned into sight we were treated to “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the cast who bought that rousing anthem to a West End that would soon become very familiar with the life of Jean Valjean. Colm Wilkinson and Patti LuPone reprised their solo numbers then a surprise ceremony took place.

Out of the smog filled Paris streets of 1832 there walked a cat on two legs, Grizabella, Elaine Paige in the tatty fur coat that symbolised the aging cat, from the former longest running musical in the world, Cats. After singing “Memory” to an appreciative audience she removed her fur mantle and handed it onto Young Cosette before sauntering off into the all enveloping fog. Finally both the current and original casts joined together for “One Day More” and more cheering that looked set to last one day more.

It was a ceremony that would be considered overly sentimental, theatrical and staged by the cynical. Those cynical people would also have to admit that it was on a West End theatre stage in front of a sentimental audience and the cheering would have lasted all night if there had not been a party for the great and good of theatre to get to.

The current production is still a powerfully moving musical; there is nothing similar and it still sells, although in a smaller theatre now, having moved from The Palace in 2004 to allow another show in. Since Les Mis moved down Shaftesbury Avenue, The Palace has had The Woman in White, Whistle Down the Wind and now has Spamalot.

One can only wonder if any of the new musicals will ever challenge the twenty plus year run. Les Mis was entirely new, forged a new direction for the musical, took risks and proved ever critic wrong; the music is ageless; the story powerful; the characters largely all too mortal and the many professionals who have taken the hat of Eponine, the ringlets of Cosette, Javert’s truncheon and the red flag, always brilliant. It inspired a generation to pursue careers in musical theatre and we are now all better off for its success. Les Mis showed the power an inspired audience has by generating positive word of mouth, that drowns out the detractors and that is still spreading now.

Can you hear the people sing? 53 Million people in 38 countries around the world have so far and there is no sign of it stopping yet; it is reopening on Broadway soon!

2006-10-09 10:20:48

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