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Les Miserables (Tour - Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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I first saw the 25-year-old musical juggernaught that is Les Miserables over a decade ago and recall it as an epic musical with lovely performances, a poignant score, and amazing set designs. Yet it was a show saddled with a muddled narrative with too many loose strands and rushed plot developments.

In this touring anniversary production, the first half act still features numerous introductions to the huge cast of characters, but this time round - the show has been given a cinematic make-over and you do feel like you are watching something brand new, which is a bonus for die-hard fans as well as newcomers to the text. As for the iconic score, it was never broke in the first place and remains as spine-tingling and hearftfelt as it ever was.

Dubbed 'The Glums' back in the day, this show features characters scurrying around the streets like sewer rats, following the French Revolution and is poles apart from the last Palace visitor, The Sound Of Music. But the prostitutes and street urchins bring a dark edge which is welcome in this age of the jukebox musical.

John Owen-Jones' Jean Valjean is the good versus Earl Carpenter's evil Javert. The two men are complete opposites, yet both actors turn in tremendous performances full of clarity and nuances. It is hard to choose between them but for me, Carpenter paints between the lines, imbuing his character with so much more than he is given. Both performers move you with their amazing vocal ability.

Lynne Wilmot and Ashley Artus have bags of fun as the grotesque Thenardiers, mugging and creeping across the stage with superb comic-timing. Rosalind James is a far more soulful Eponine than you are used to seeing, but she engages the audience throughout and deserves praise for her fantastically fresh interpretations of classic songs including "On My Own."

Toby Prynne may be a little boy but his Gavroche is a mature turn well beyond his years. Whenever he is on stage, you smile with delight. Gareth Gates is suitably repressed as the young fighter Marius and delivers a rich tone to his vocals, hitting the high notes in "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" when required. Magdelena Alberto's Fantine is also incredibly poignant. Katie Hall is fine as Cosette but very old school in terms of delivery which is at odds with many of the contemporary touches. As for the supporting cast, from the kids through to the excellent ensemble, they all give this old favourite their all and then some.

The set design is ingenious as it juxtaposes CGI with traditional props and this works wonders, adding depth and providing many scenes with a stunning backdrop in which characters can emerge like mythical figures. The show benefits from this and as such, now has a flim-like quality and the transitions are seamless.

Despite the rushed mid-section, this new Les Mis is even better than the West End production and will therefore leave you feeling far from glum, as it remains the stuff that dreams are made of.


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