March 27, 2016
When they started selling tickets to this show last September 2015, I made sure I bought tickets on the first day out. However, due to work, I was only able to buy tickets late that afternoon. The run of this show will start March 11, 2016, which was during the kids' final exams. On March 16-23, we were going to be travelling as the family. Therefore March 26 was the earliest Saturday matinee show I could buy at that time, and it was Black Saturday. The only good center seats were already way up in the balcony area, but I grabbed them just the same.
The story (by Victor Hugo, the music (by Claude Michel Schonberg) and the songs of this play (original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, translated to English by Herbert Kretzmer) were very familiar to me already. I had heard and sung along with the soundtrack album way back in the 1980s. In 1993, we watched in awe the Repertory Philippines all-Filipino production staged at the Meralco with Cocoy Laurel as Jean Valjean. That show had the barricades scene done on a rotating stage which was unforgettable for me. In 2012, I rated the film version of the musical by Tom Hooper (with Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean) as my personal pick for the Oscar Best Picture that year.
Jean Valjean went to jail for 19 years for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. When he was released, he broke his parole and changed his identity, which became cause for the obsessive pursuit of police officer Javert. Years later, he became the owner of a factory where an unfortunate woman named Fantine worked. When Fantine dies, Valjean took it upon himself to adopt her daughter Cosette and raise her like his own. Several years later, when Cosette was a teenager, she meets and falls in love with an earnest student Marius. Then, the tumultuous June Rebellion of 1832 breaks out in Paris.
In this touring production, the performers were a multinational mix from the UK, US and Australian shows. Their exceptional singing voices were as expected, capturing all the familiar vocal styles and timbers we have heard and loved since the Original Cast recording, with the actors giving their roles their own personal nuances.
Aussie Simon Gleeson was a powerful Jean Valjean. Of all his lung-busting song numbers, for me, his best song was the perfectly rendered "Bring Him Home". Broadway's Earl Carpenter matched Gleeson well as the conflicted Javert, with his excellent renditions of "Stars" and "Javert's Soliloquy". Cameron Blakely and Helen Walsh played the irrepressible Thenardiers, very effective as the comic relief antagonists. I was disappointed when I did not see the name of Rachelle Anne Go on the cast list in the theater lobby. For this show, the tragic Fantine was played by Jessica Daley.
Emily Langridge and Paul Wilkins played lovers Cosette and Marius, with Kerrie Anne Greenland as the third wheel Eponine. I really liked how they staged "In My Life" which segued into "A Heart Full of Love" with the gate, the wall, and the balcony. There were no actual furniture on stage for Marius' lament "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" but the drama of the song was not diminished a bit with the interpretation done here with candles.
The pacing of the show was at a faster than usual clip, with efficient transition of scenes with their respective set pieces. Along with the lighting and smoke effects, the video backgrounds gave a magical illusion depth to many scenes, making them look bigger than the actual limits of the stage. This was best seen in that scene when Valjean carries the injured Marius through the Paris sewers up to the scene when Javert jumps into the River Seine. Too bad there is no rotating stage for the barricades scene in this particular production.
I do not know if I am just imagining it, but the songs were seemingly sung with a faster tempo than I was expecting. I felt this sucked some of the soul out of the Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" and Eponine's "A Little Fall of Rain", interpretations which I found oddly lacking. For me, Greenland's interpretation of the iconic song "On My Own" felt more angry than pained, which did not feel right for me.
Despite seeming too dark or somber, I feel this dramatically-charged production will effectively make you appreciate why this show possesses such timeless appeal. The show-stopping "One Day More" ending the first act (with the distinctive marching choreography) and the tear-jerking "Finale" (with the ghostly vocal effects) were very well-staged indeed. These two big scenes will really linger in your memory long after the show.
The extraordinary music and the powerful songs of this musical will definitely endure for generations. Watching this epic musical unfold on stage with live orchestral music and live singing is so much better than just watching it onscreen as a movie or concert video. You simply must hear these people sing LIVE!
“Les Miserables” opened with a gala night on March 16 at The Theater at Solaire in Parañaque City. It will run up to May 1, 2016. Performances are from Tuesdays to Sundays at 8 p.m. with matinee performances at 2:30 p.m. for Saturdays and Sundays. Show runs 2 hours, 55 minutes (with one 15-minute interval).
Tickets are available at ticketworld.com.ph. Prices are as follows: P7,000 for VIP, P5,800 for A Reserve, P4,50) for B Reserve, P3,350 for C Reserve and P1,750 for D Reserve.