In this classic tale of binary opposites, our hero Jean Valjean (John Owen-Jones) is a wronged man, but nothing is cut and dried here, as he is a flawed man with a secret with threatens to haunt him. Pitted against an old adversary, Javert (Earl Carpenter) - these two men continue to cross paths against the after effects of the French Revolution. Characters scurry across the vast set like sewer rats and the joy of this marvellous production is that your loyalties often swing from rich to poor with each stirring musical number.
For such an iconic show, there is still an edgy quality which is more than welcome to counteract the saccharine appeal of the not so Dirty Dancing and the slick family favourite, Grease. Prostitutes and street urchins jostle for your attention and due to Matt Kinley's evocative set design, they inhabit tunnels and dirty streets; in complete contrast to the world where Valjean finds himself.
Owen-Jones is a fascinating performer to watch as he portrays every human emotion with real panache. Carpenter, though avoids playing a stereotypical villain and you find yourself longing for his Javert to find happiness. During their many duets, these two performers hit the heights vocally and the effect is often mesmerising.
Lynne Wilmot and Ashley Artus continue to have fun playing the pantomime double act - Thenardiers; bringing much needed comic relief to the proceedings. Rosalind James' Eponine is soulful and sassy and I love her rendition of "On My Own" as even though it brings tears to your eyes, she imbues this character with a steely determination behind her eyes.
Gareth Gates has grown with each performance as young fighter, Marius and his suitably repressed turn and 'less is more' approach to the moving "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" works wonderfully well. He also has genuine chemistry with Katie Hall - who is beautifully understated as Cosette. The supporting cast keep things moving with their often sardonic quips to the audience. I also enjoyed Madalena Alberto's ill-fated Fantine and Jon Robyns' strident Enjolras. But there is not a weak link amongst the entire company and they all work like athletes throughout the three hour running time.
The huge Lowry Lyric stage fits this show like a glove and the sound and sightlines have improved since the tour was last in town at the Palace Theatre.
It might have been dubbed 'The Glums' by some critics, but this new and improved version of Les Miserables is a stunning and magical piece of theatre - bouyed to another level by a faultless cast.