It is unfortunate when the accompanying orchestra makes a stronger impression than the performers on stage, and especially when the impression it gives is anything but positive. Sadly, during the Savoyards’ Sunday matinee performance of Les Miserables, the sins of the orchestra far outweighed the virtues of the cast.
The musical (based upon the Victor Hugo novel of the same name) is set in the early 1800s leading up to the French Revolution. It is based around the life of ex-prisoner Jean Valjean and his flight from lawman Inspector Javert, as he raises his adopted daughter Cosette. The story spans 17 years, the climax of which occurs at the street barricades of the student revolutionaries of Paris.
Running just on three hours, Les Miserables is enough to test the patience of any audience, and unfortunately at times the pace of the show tends to drag. Some of the more sober scenes seem drawn out at times, especially Valjean’s recitative sections and Valjean’s escape into the sewers in the second half of the show.
The biggest issue, however, is with the accompanying orchestra. Unbalanced dynamics between the sections, inconsistent rhythm and tuning issues make many sections in the show confusing and distracting. As a result, the backing of the orchestra overshadows the good work of the cast, missing key cues and notes, especially in sections of recitative where the singer and accompaniment are constantly out of sync.
Apart from this, the unswerving enthusiasm and vitality of the cast are convincing, injecting a dynamic energy into the big ensemble numbers of the show, such as “At The End of The Day” and “The People’s Song”. Particularly impressive is the rich tone and clear articulation of the chorus, no mean feat considering the number of singers and tempo of the numbers involved.
Jack Bradford as Valjean is well suited, both physically and vocally, and although coming across as slightly over-dramatic in the opening scenes of the show, he seems to quickly settle into the role fairly smoothly. Ruth Bridgstock gives a commendable performance, playing the role of Valjean’s adoptive daughter Cosette with an endearing hint of childlike innocence and demonstrating considerable vocal talent. Opposite her, Damien Orth is appropriately loveable if rather innocuous as the lovestruck Marius.
Holding their own in the comedy stakes are Gary Kliger and Julie Evans as the dishonorable Thenadiers, playing their roles up to the fullest comic potential and managing to keep the laughs coming throughout the show. Trish Coyne as Eponine established her status as a more than capable vocalist, in her poignant rendition of “On My Own”, but it was Lionel Tennyson’s captivating performance of “Stars” and his telling interpretation of the malevolent Javert that made him the stand out performer among the principals.
Sets and props are quite sophisticated, the set design taking full advantage of the space possibilities afforded by the theatre; props such as the horse-cart give a professional feel to the production. Scene changes are quick, unobtrusive and effective, the action segueing nicely between the scenes. Costuming also is particularly impressive, such as the colourful and inspired outfits worn during “Lovely Ladies” and the wedding scene, once again adding an enlivened and professional touch.