Les Miz as moving as ever

The Philippine Star

BRISBANE, AustraliaWatching Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (Les Miz) in a narrative film format is a moving experience. Seeing it come alive on a musical stage, however, is more affecting as if you were hearing the story and meeting its characters for the first time. 

They are no longer a product of well-chosen words or well-crafted moving images, but a product of a live performance, giving audiences the illusion of being part of the dramatic event that is unfolding right before their very eyes. The timeless tale remains intact but the staging is different.

This is what the re-imagined Les Miz the musical promises its Manila audiences when it will play at the Solaire Resort and Casino’s The Theatre in March next year. It is sporting a new look, and to borrow the title of an article in the souvenir program, Les Miz is born again. Longtime admirers of the musical will watch it in a fresh perspective.

“When we were asked to reimagine this, Matt Kinley the (scenic) designer went to Victor Hugo’s portfolio and found wonderful paintings that we use throughout the show as backdrops, landscapes or settings,” said director James Powell during a group interview held at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC). He also pointed out that the original production had its own identity and style. Remember, its turntable or rotating floor? “We had the opportunity mainly to sort of bring it to the world of technicolor. You remember the sequence from the movie Wizard of Oz, where it is all black and white; and when you go to Oz, it’s the color. That was tempting for us and it was led by the paintings of Victor Hugo.” By the way, Laurence Connor is the musical’s other director.

According to executive producer Michael Cassel, Les Miz was reimagined for a new audience. It is a new version of the show which is very familiar. “It’s been told in a whole new way. Scenically, there’s a whole lot of projections we use in the show.”

The audiences will not just feast on the familiar characters and well-put automated sets but also on Victor’s paintings/illustrations projected on a screen. These complement the dark, drab dominant emotion of the scenes.

Asked what other interesting changes audiences can look forward to in the “brand-new” Les Miz, James replied, “The story is the same. That’s Hugo and that’s the marriage of those minds that first staged the musical. That stays the same. We always wanted to match the emotional impact of the original story. The music is the same. It is being re-orchestrated. It is the same but slightly different. The pictures are full of colors.”

Speaking of colors, James said, the teenager Cosette is one character that “we wanted really to address. If you remember in the original (production), she is in black dress, black hair with a frilly white shoulder (accent). We wanted her to (be) more a vital character. She is a spirited teenager who wants answers to questions. There are unanswered issues (between her and Jean Valjean). We tried to make her a really vital youngster who is falling in love for the first time and all the upheaval that goes with that. She is a radiant character with blonde, flowy hair (and) in silk green dress. She has real resonance.”

These are some of the “re-imaginings” for the musicals, which are a welcome change that followers and the new generation will embrace. “What you see is a delight on the eye,” said James. This is all colorful and textured, enhanced by the lighting design, which has wonderful tones and colors, he added.

As for the sound design, Michael said that speakers are installed around the theater and the audience will have that cinematic surround sound experience.





Again these changes in stage, lighting, sound and costume designs are part of the Les Miz reimagined production, whose first scene, where the chain gang led by Jean Valjean with police inspector Javert, gives the audiences the hint that this is a new production. The original production had the convicts in a mining breaking rocks. This time around, they are seen rowing a ship with all their might, wanting to get out from the chains of slavery and dreaming the dream to be freed.

“We sat in the studio. We had a glass of wine,” recalled James of how the idea came about. “We shut the curtains. The room was dark. We closed our eyes and put the soundtrack (hearing the signature sound of Prologue: Work Song) and I said, ‘They (the prisoners) are rowing’ and Laurence said, ‘(they are rowing) a galley ship.’ And Matt Kinley went in his little model and said, ‘That’s it. That’s what they are doing.’” They broached the idea to producer Cameron Mackintosh and he liked it, telling them, “If you can make that work on stage, I will be right behind you.”

Two weeks later, James recalled, musical composer Claude-Michel Schonberg sent him an e-mail sharing an anecdote that when the latter first wrote the music for that show’s sequence, he imagined the prisoners were rowing a boat. With that, the re-imagined first scene was a go. This was also the scene where the creative team of Les Miz struggled because what Cameron wanted to say, James shared, to anyone “who has any history of the show right from the beginning, is please expect the unexpected. (He wants to establish it) straight away.”

The Les Miz Manila production will be led by Simon Gleeson as Jean Valjean and Rachelle Ann Go as Fantine. Kerrie Anne Greenland, Chris Durling and Emily Langridge will portray Eponine, Enjolras and Cosette, respectively.

With what I had seen along with other members of Manila print and broadcast media at the QPAC’s Lyric Theatre, Les Miz remains the legendary epic musical that makes you contemplate about love, freedom, faith and redemption and questions like “What am I?” and “What do I stand for in life?” The characters like Jean Valjean, Fantine, Eponine, Cosette, Marius and Enjolras and their signature songs (Bring Him Home, I Dreamed a Dream, On My Own, In My Life, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and Do You Hear The People Sing?) help you find answers to these questions.

As you follow the journey of each character, you are also making your own personal journey of understanding why Victor’s masterpiece and Cameron’s musical never get outdated, resonating similar social issues of the time gone by and the now. This speaks about the Les Miz charm, which has never failed to bring people to theaters and send them home feeling inspired and empowered.  





(For ticket inquiries, log on to ticketworld.com.ph or call 891-9999.)












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