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Theatre Review: Les Misérables

In 19th century France, Jean Valjean is released from hard labour after 19 years for stealing bread and assumes a fake identity to start anew.

Presented by Northern Light Theatre Company
Reviewed 2 April 2022

At the end of the day, the Northern Light Theatre Company remain one of the best this city has to offer. This multi-award-winning company continues to exceed expectations and attract some of Adelaide’s best and brightest musical talents.

For Les Misérables, based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Gordon Combes takes charge, coming from a long and successful background as a musical theatre director. His credits include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Kinky Boots, Evita, and Dusty. His experience shows with this tight, lively production co-designed by John Sheehan with assistant direction by Charissa McCluskey-Garcia.

The play is written by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music), Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel (original French lyrics) and Herbert Kretzmer (English lyrics) and has been gracing stages around the world since 1980, continuing to draw audiences despite its age. The action takes place in 19th century France, opening when Jean Valjean is paroled after 19 years of hard labour for stealing bread. Finding salvation in the kindness of a bishop, he dedicates himself to the greater good, eventually becoming Mayor of a town and adopting the child of a dying woman. Years later, as revolution sweeps the streets of Paris, Valjean’s now-stable life gets caught in the violence and grief of young love, fighting revolutionaries, and the wrath of his obsessed gaoler who continues to hunt him down.

For such a miserable tale, there is a surprising amount of comedy that Combes brings to the fore, most notably through the exceptional talents of James McCluskey-Garcia and Megan Humphries, two powerhouses portraying the irredeemable Innkeeper and his wife, and 11-year old Harrison Thomas in a magnificent embodiment of street urchin Gavroche.

The show is carried by its two professional leads though, no less than Mark Oates in the central role, and David MacGillivray as Inspector Javert. They are equalled in every secondary role, including Tasmin McGill as daughter Cosette, Nicholas Munday as student revolutionary Marius, and Liliana Carletti in the heartbreaking guise of lovelorn Eponine. Others not mentioned are equally deserving.

Musical Director Matthew Rumley and his band sell the show in the opening second when the full-bodied orchestra strikes its first note and fills the theatre with the drama to come. While a couple of the ballads could do with a little more emotion, most notably Javert’s final number, these instances are far and few between. There’s a lot of difficult songs in the score and the cast hold every note, belting out lyrics but equally swooning and crooning as the mood dictates. The talent that Rumley has guided on stage is breathtaking.

Sue Pole, one of Adelaide’s premium choreographers, does it again with moves that complement the action and era, while never making the staging look overcrowded. There is nothing new to say about Ann Humprhies’ consistently good costumes. Read any other review to know what to expect. She never disappoints and, in a show like Les Misérables, there are a lot of costumes and fast changes. Humphries and her team are long overdue for an award.

This is a story of second chances, love, loss and redemption. The social commentary buried in the text is not lost, but it is overwhelmed by the sheer scale and joy of this modern classic. Northern Light Theatre Company have triumphed once again, proving beyond doubt they are the masters of the house.

Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Twitter: @StrtegicRetweet

Venue: Shedley Theatre, Playford Civic Centre, Elizabeth
Season: 25 Mar -9 April 2022
Duration: 3 hours
Tickets: $24-$40
Bookings: https://www.northernlight.org.au

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