Les Misérables: The new & improved musical

THE PEPPER MILL - Pepper Teehankee (The Philippine Star) - February 1, 2016 - 9:00am

It was in the 1980s when the three big musicals (Cats, Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera) were the hardest tickets to get on Broadway. They all cost thousands of dollars to stage and they commanded the highest ticket prices; they all won Tony Awards and all were sung through (no spoken words) musicals.

I found myself in New York in 1990 and watched all three. All were amazing even with my high expectations but among the three, I thought Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Les Misérables was the most memorable. Such beautiful songs stayed in my mind and made me buy the recordings — London cast and Broadway cast recording, The Complete Symphonic Recording and The Original French Recording — all of which I still have.

Bambi Verzo of Concertus, who  had already brought Cats and The Phantom of the Opera to Manila, told me that we were going to Brisbane to watch Les Misérables. I was happy that my then favorite musical (I had watched many others that I liked more since) is finally coming to Manila. But I was “Les-Missed out” already because Les Miz songs were sort of overplayed when the movie was released. It was nothing like the theatrical version and frankly, I hated it. I’d heard that Les Misérables was re-staged for its 25th anniversary in 2010 so I was curious about this “updated” version of the musical.

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century revolutionary France, Les Misérables is a much loved musical seen by over 70 million people worldwide in 42 countries and in 22 languages. This musical, based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, has won more than 250 major awards around the world. It includes the songs I Dreamed a Dream, On My Own, Stars, Bring Him Home, Do You Hear the People Sing?, One Day More, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, and many more.

A group of us Filipino journalists were lucky enough to meet the Brisbane cast and get invited to the gala premiere of the musical in Brisbane. It was Les Misérables all over the city with posters and billboards all around. Some buildings were even lit up in the colors of the French flag! Even with the festive mood around, I kept my expectations low, thinking that the rehash of the musical was going to be more like the movie version.

We got to the packed theater and the first thing I noticed was the smaller stage.  This was interesting since I remember the revolving barricades on Broadway. I was informed that the new production had a lot of visual projections, maybe trying to keep up with the 21st-century technology. It did work though because the mood was still somber as the reimagined scenery  projected on the stage was inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo.

The show started and though the stage was smaller, it worked better as, in hindsight, the stage was indeed too big when I saw it in New York. My visual periphery could only take so much and everything fit in perfectly in this modernized staging. There were minor changes in the score and lyrics but I was impressed with the background projections using Hugo’s paintings. Wow, the guy could write and paint!



Aside from the great visuals, the members of the cast were superb. They were all fantastic. Australia’s Helpmann Award winner for Best Male Actor in a Musical Simon Gleeson will lead the cast coming to Manila and reprise his role as Jean Valjean. Rachelle Ann Go (who totally impressed me when I saw her as Gigi in Miss Saigon in London) will be playing Fantine in the Manila run and that is definitely something everyone should look forward to. Other cast members I saw in Brisbane who are included in the Manila leg were Helpmann Award Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role Kerrie Anne Greenland as Éponine, along with Chris Durling as Enjolras and Emily Langridge as Cosette.

Yes, Les Miz has celebrated triumphant seasons in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and currently playing in Brisbane. Still, Cameron Mackintosh is thrilled with the Filipino reception to the musical’s imminent arrival in Manila.

I was overwhelmed with the crowd’s reception at the Brisbane performance as it was given a very long standing ovation. I was so moved and impressed that the reworked version of Les Misérables was a masterpiece. It jumped back at the top of my “favorite musical of all time” list. I dare say that this “brand-new” version is even better than the original version I had seen decades ago.

After the show, we mingled with the cast and production team at the after party where most of the cast members had expressed excitement about coming to Manila. Other cast members were still hoping that they would be part of the Manila leg.

Of course, we all had a day to spend in Brisbane and what better way to spend it than with Australia’s beloved marsupials —  the koalas and the kangaroos! We had ample time to take photos with these lovable creatures. After meeting these cute animals, we headed off to a sumptuous meal of juicy and succulent Australian oysters and tender and flavorful Australian beef. Shopping with Tessa Prieto-Valdes and Anton San Diego was a blast as well.

Restaged, rehased, remastered, reimagined, updated — call it what you want but this version of Les Misérables is just magnificent. I can say that I will definitely be watching it more than twice when it comes to Manila. Do not miss the chance to see this wonderful musical in Manila.

Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed new production Les Misérables starts next month at The Theatre in Solaire Resort and Casino.

(For tickets, visit Ticketworld.com.ph or call 891-9999. For sponsorship and block-buy inquiries, call 403-8646. For further information, visit www.lesmis.com.ph and facebook.com/lesmismanila.)

Power up!

Meralco recently held a special launch for its first Power Up Forum 2016. The forum, which is expected to give companies an auspicious start this Year of the Monkey, is set on Feb. 4, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Uno Seafood Restaurant in Greenhills.

The Power Up Forum is initiated by the Meralco Biz Partners Group, a special segment dedicated to assist start-up companies or those expanding their existing businesses through a whole menu of  tailor-fit solutions and services in managing electricity requirements.

 The launch, hosted by Meralco head of Public Information Office Joe Zaldarriaga and Meralco Biz Partners segment sales head Cecille Domingo, was organized to acquaint electricity consumers particularly budding and progressive businessmen, on the numerous benefits that Merlaco Biz Partners can bring. These benefits include contract right sizing, the Peak/Off-Peak program, as well as access to Accredited Meralco Contractors or AMCs who have received technical and safety training from Meralco. A special video, showcasing testimonials from Meralco’s satisfied customers, was screened, underlining the tagline “Anuman ang negosyo, may partner ka sa pagtupad ng pangarap mo.”

 Others on hand to support the event were Meralco Biz Partners marketing head Anne Gomez, zone head for Alabang-Cavite Lauren Velasco, area head Eusebio Gonzalez, marketing associate Dianne Achas and Meralco Public Information Office associate Abigail Mendoza.

(Follow me on Instagram @pepperteehankee.)

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