Les Miserables returns to Toronto
Les Miserables has returned to Toronto. And given that this city loves its musicals — from long running productions like The Phantom of the Opera, to revivals of The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz from Andrew Lloyd Webber — audiences are set to come out in droves for the large scale spectacle and booming, melodic voices.
It's no surprise then that Cameron Mackintosh's Les Miserables, which has already achieved widespread global success over its 28 years, brought down the house at its opening night performance at Mirvish's Princess of Wales Theatre. In what felt like adulation reserved only for visiting rock stars, the production, and its leading man, were embraced with full force.
It's with great cause that audiences are quick to herald the production as musical magic. Mackintosh has added sleek visual projections inspired by Victor Hugo's paintings that ground the rousing, revolutionary scenes in a moody tone. The largely Canadian cast, anchored by West End star and Iranian-Canadian actor Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean, are as spirited as any you'll see in a Toronto musical.
After spending 19 years in prison for stealing bread for his nephew, Valjean (Karimloo) dodges parole to reinvent himself as a moral man, one who pledges to help a dying Fantine (Genevieve Leclerc) ensure her daughter Cosette (played in later age by Samantha Hill) will grow up safe. Pursed along the way by Inspector Javert (Earl Carpenter) and Cosette's negligent caregivers the Thénardiers (Lisa Horner and Cliff Saunders), Valjean navigates his freedom and helps fight for justice during the 1832 Paris uprising alongside a young Marius (Perry Sherman), who falls in love with Cosette.
The most notable feature absent from Mackintosh's updated production is the revolve which carried the large chorus and swung the barricade in earlier productions. The current staging proves it's not needed as the bombastic music accomplishes the intended effect. The Hugo projections from designer Matt Kinley are superb, helping to set the tone and swiftly move the story along. The scenes with Javert on the bridge are strikingly sketched.
While the intention is to marry the spirit of the original production with a more contemporary treatment, the tactile production elements still feel very much like a product of the 80s and 90s. While they are period relevant, wigs, makeup, and costumes seem wrenched from past closets. The film has a more updated aesthetic treatment on that front.
The Toronto production won't solely be remembered for the revisioning. The nuanced portrayal of Jean Valjean by Karimloo is what sets this production apart. His Valjean is equal parts brute and compassion. It's a performance that seldom wades into melodrama and for that the rest of the production is bolstered.
He's supported by a stellar ensemble. Melissa O'Neil as Eponine is the stand-out female, able to translate her pain into haunting song. Carpenter's Javert is also solid, a formidable foil to Valjean who wrestles with the criminal's moral character. Hill and Sherman don't ever rise beyond standard lovers, overshadowed by spirited performances from crowd favourites Horner and Saunders as the Thénardiers.
The spirit of dreaming big and joining your fellow man is alive and well in the current revisioning of Les Miserables. Mackintosh is lucky to have a home town boy, Ramin Karimloo, leading the charge.
Les Miserables, by Boublil & Schönberg and presented by Cameron Mackintosh, runs at the Princess of Wales Theatre until December 22.
Photo courtesy of Mirvish