Les Miz: Lessons in love and redemption
Jerry Donato (The Philippine Star) - March 7, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Les Miserables (Les Miz) is a study about passion and love as well as the latter’s varied forms and aspects. These connect the themes of redemption (looking at the musical from the spiritual point of view) and revolution (from the political perspective). The lead characters resonate all this, giving the legendary musical the emotional proximity to practically all audiences, regardless of their generation and cultural backgrounds.

“Everything changes after that,” said Simon Gleeson of his favorite scene where he as Jean Valjean/Monsieur Madeleine will meet the little Cosette for the first time. He, along with the other cast members of Les Miz, faced the Manila media in a group interview held at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) in Brisbane, Australia last year.

“His whole life changes after a life of running, hiding, fighting and trying to get by, and (harboring feelings of) revenge and anger. There’s this little girl who is pure, who is an angel, who has the chance to redeem him and he sees it in her. I love that scene because it is the one time he gets smart.”

After living the “chain-gang” life for nearly two decades, Simon’s Jean Valjean has finally decided to give himself another chance at life by becoming a devoted yet over protective adoptive father to Fantine’s daughter. This is a radical change from being Prisoner 24601 and has resulted from the Bishop of Digne’s forgiveness. The then social outcast has risen to become a factory owner and mayor, disguising himself as Monsieur Madeleine and finding solace in his new persona.

“I think the vulnerable aspect of him interests me the most,” said Simon of his character. “He is constantly, throughout the show, (asking), ‘What am I doing? Is this the right way to go? I don’t know what to do.’ There are few times he (is like), ‘This is the way and I’m going forward... I need God and I need help.’ So there is a lot of soul searching and I think that’s what people like about this show so much. It’s not just (about) Jean Valjean. There are so many characters in the show. I think a lot of the audiences in their everyday lives are thinking ‘What do I do? What do I stand for?’”

“Standing for” could mean many things to the audiences and to the characters. Eponine, played by Kerrie Anne Greenland, is the “poster girl” of unrequited love — loving someone without any expectation or unconditionally.

 

 

 

 

“Everyone relates to a different character on a different level,” she shared about the universality of the Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg work based on Victor Hugo’s novel. “A mother would relate to Fantine and I love her story, so moving. But I think everyone has an Eponine story (an unrequited love). Everyone has a bit of it.” This is seen in scenes when Marius, her object of affection, asks Eponine to help him meet the young lady Cosette and then the two friends go to Monsieur Madeleine’s residence. Eponine pours out her emotions in another anticipated musical segment where she creates her own make-believe world and how this soliloquy takes her, err “bites” her back to reality.

“I think she’s very down-to-earth kind of rough character,” said Kerrie Anne. “She works with a gang (that) robs people’s houses. (The role) is a joy and tragic to experience every night. (As an actress,) it is a pleasure to do (it) every day, even though it is a tragic story.”

The adult Cosette, on the other hand, is essayed on stage by Emily Langridge. The challenge of playing such an iconic role, as Emily put it, is “coming out with a fresh energy every day, and not taking on the energy of the other characters from what they are experiencing. Before she comes on, it is so intense there. (There is) war, the revolution is happening. Everyone is quite aggressive, that sort of energy.”

In the middle of this, Emily’s Cosette enters and has her own story to tell in her own world. “At the end of the story, when everyone is dying on the show and then she loses Valjean is often quite difficult (to be in),” shared the actress. Emily as Cosette, however, finds a breather in moments shared with Marius, especially in the song A Heart Full of Love.

“Cosette doesn’t have too much interaction with other people,” said Emily. “Her main relationship is (with her) father, the main support in her life.” The character, added Emily, is “longing for her mother” and wants to know her parent’s true identity. She has so much love and respect for Jean Valjean, but this is challenged by her blossoming relationship with Marius. “Her relationship with Marius is so exciting, which is so foreign to her,” Emily said. “She is young and she has never been in love. It (has turned) her world completely upside down.”

The young ladies’ personal struggles are juxtaposed to the collective behavior shown on the streets and behind the barricade. The revolutionary students are responding to the death of General Lamarque, a rare breed of leader — even beyond the confines of musical theater — who has a genuine love for the poor. Leading the group of “politically-minded” students is Enjolras to be portrayed by Chris Durling.

“It has a large principal cast,” said Chris of the musical’s appeal. “It has different characters and personalities, too. Everyone can identify with their principles and follow their journey. Probably the main thing is, everyone just loves an underdog, everyone loves to see Jean Valjean’s journey, and its timeless music.”

“Everyone’s role is crucial,” he added. “This show has been tweaked and refined with for so many years. I do have the pleasure to sort of interacting with (the actors playing) Javert and Valjean and bringing them into the barricade. The story is about this one man, this man’s journey which goes around historical events.”

The personal and social events that take place in the musical’s milieu also reflect of the present times.

“Here comes any paper and these people in real life are dealing with these things,” said Simon. “(They have been told) on television (and) that these are happening. As we speak, young men and women are dying right now for what they believe in.” The actor also added that his character doesn’t deal with any political event in the show, “he is slightly removed from that politicized aspect, it is the young boys and Enjolras (who are into it), and he is stranger to that world, he just stumbles into it by accident. For me, the show is about hope more than anything. There is a huge amount of hope in the show. I see people leaving the theater uplifted, changed and empowered.”

The Manila production of Les Miz begins its six-week staging at The Theatre of Solaire Resort and Casino on March 11. For ticket inquiries, visit www.ticketworld.com or call 891-9999.

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