The Birmingham Hippodrome has a sense of occasion. A rarity, it combines modern, superb, front of house facilities, with a lavish, restored, traditional auditorium. It is ideally suited to Les Miserables, a tour which is modern in production and conception, but traditional in its sense of story and values.
At curtain up, for the overture, an orchestra assails the senses. For the duration of the evening it shares equal billing with the stars on the stage from its unseen pit. Every instrument can be heard, every nuance in playing detected, testament to Musical Director Ben Atkinson. The opening scene is measured, restrained, until “At the End of the Day” explodes onto stage as a full chorus bursts onto the stage. Aggressive, brash and energetic, it is no resigned acceptance of their lot, but a sneering, defiant crie de couer
The lighting, designed by Paul Constable, is subdued, often a gold diffused glow, sometimes you have to peer into the murk, an effort always well rewarded. Shadows are cast all around.
I last saw the show fifteen years ago. This production, directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell is different, with a distinctive feel to it. “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” plays without empty chairs or empty tables, just ghosts carrying flames.
Jean Valjean is an imperious creation by Killan Donnelly, never more so than on “Bring Him Home”. Nic Greenshield’s Javert steals the night with a towering “Stars”, Katie Hall snaps at his heals with “I Dreamed a Dream”. Donnelly takes us on an astonishing physical journey as he ages before our eyes, “Bring Him Home” is gentle, plangent, and note perfect. Greenshield sings “Stars” so compellingly that everyone else on the stage disappears for those minutes, so enthralling is his performance.
For “I Dreamed a Dream”, Hall takes Fantine into a smoky cabaret bar, the house band responding to every nuance of her melancholic musing. All three are outstanding, fresh, and vibrant readings of very familiar, and much loved material. Each singer personalises the song, but not such that the song is not the star.
Martin Ball and Sophie-Louise Dann as Thenardier and Madame Thenardier, master and mistress of the house, provide humour, character and energy to their roles. Comic song “Master of the House” is elaborately choreographed, but just fails to draw the audience into being part of the boozy Inn’s customers, but the duo excel as the interlopers at the wedding feast.
It is impossible to resist the epic sweep of the production, a tsunami which overwhelms cast and audience alike, carrying them along on an irresistible storm surge of drama and emotion. British audiences are rightly sparing in standing ovations, but as the night came to a close, the audience rose as one for a rousing production of a story which shows no signs of fatigue, or age. Runs till 11/5/19, continues on nationwide tour