cynicale: Drew Sarich, Leanne Dobinson, Jon Robyns and Nancy Sullivan (Les Mis Red and Black lyrics)
[personal profile] cynicale
In my last entry, I talked about the two trips to London I’ve taken in the last few months, but I neglected to say anything specific about the shows I caught while there. I’ll have a round-up post ready in a few days, detailing my experiences with the “other” shows, but for now here’s my impression of the «new» cast of Les Misérables at Queen’s Theatre.

If you’re relatively new to this journal, know this: I love Les Mis with all my heart, and if I sound overly critical it’s just because I have a very firm set of expectations. I know how good it can be. Tastes differ, however, so the average theatregoer or different fan might not always agree with my opinions on the subject.

This review covers the following three performances (for me, #34-36): The 11th of July (Jonathan Williams as alternate Valjean), 28th of September Matinee (Christopher Jacobsen as u/s Valjean, Shaun Dalton as u/s Javert, Scott Garnham as u/s Enjolras), 3rd of October (Jonathan Williams as alternate Valjean, Shaun Dalton as u/s Javert) 2011.


Just to preface this: It had been a while since I last saw Les Mis at Queen’s. I missed Killian’s entire run, for one thing, as I neglected the production at Queen’s in favour of the O2 Concert and the Tour at Barbican in Oct 2010. So, I was very happy to be back! The London production has always been my favourite, and they are keeping up the high quality. Even disregarding the fact that I’m a fan, I feel highly confident when I say that it’s the best show currently running in the West End (as usual). None of the 12 other shows I’ve recently can even hope to measure up to it.

Prior to booking, my primary point of interest was Hadley Fraser’s Javert and Liam Tamne’s Enjolras. Hadley because…he’s Hadley and I like him (he has a great résumé, for one thing), Liam just because he was the new Enjolras and I hadn’t come across any reviews of his performance. Actually, I had barely heard of him prior to him being cast. I knew he had understudied Fiyero in Wicked at some point (…I have no idea how I knew that), but that was all. Several websites were decent enough to inform me that Alfie Boe would not perform on Mondays (this now also includes Wednesday matinees), so I deliberately booked tickets for those performances. I heard Alfie Boe perform at the O2 concert, and while I’m sure he’s a perfectly decent Valjean when seen live, I did not really enjoy his operatic take on the role (certain things sounded completely wrong to my ears that way, unfortunately). I dearly hoped that Jonathan Williams was still around, which it turned out he was! He performs each Monday, while Christopher Jacobsen seems to pretty consistently get the Wednesday Matinees (though the 2nd u/s might get some of those too?).


Tickets
In a terribly misplaced effort to save money, I bought cheap Upper Circle tickets in July and September both. At one of the performances I had seat A23. “Slightly Restricted View”, my ass. It’s probably just because I’m short, but I was obliged to lean forward at a less than comfortable angle throughout the show in order to see anything at all. Sitting upright, all I could see was the back wall of the stage. Once I leaned forward I had as good a view the third floor (2nd in England) affords, but like I said, not comfortable and not ideal for catching nuances in the acting. 3rd of October I had first row Stalls, Stage Right. Vaguely interesting experience, as I tend to sit towards the left unless I get a seat at the middle of the row. I quite liked the seat, but Dad complained that one of the bricks/speakers was blocking his line of sight (from the seat at the far right end of the row). (Did they remove a row to expand the pit, or something? Seemed that way, in which case I completely missed that piece of news. Perhaps it has just been too long since last time)


Jonathan Williams (alternate Valjean, Mondays 11/07 and 03/10)
I literally squealed in delight when I recognised him (I was in danger of ending up as a late-comer in July, so didn’t have time to check the board). I care so much more for him than for the average Valjean. I’ve covered his performance in previous reviews; here I’ll limit myself to say that his portrayal this time around was just as lovely as usual.


Christopher Jacobsen (u/s Valjean 28th of September matinee)
I’ve seen a couple of people declaring him to be their favourite Valjean. I just don’t see it. I didn’t really enjoy his portrayal, his “Bring Him Home” was weak…of all understudies lucky enough to score a regularly scheduled day on, why did it have to be him? Could have been an off day, of course, but for now colour me disappointed.


Hadley Fraser (Javert)
Certainly delivered the goods. Admittedly, I started out fearing he deliberately was making Javert out to be the Bad Guy – he was among others things overly violent in The Confrontation. Coupled with his usual forceful delivery – strong intonation, clear diction, clipped lines etc – it seemed that way, but scenes such as the Runaway Cart aftermath showed that he was just playing him even more passionate than the average Javert. Moderation does not seem to be Hadley’s thing, no matter what part he plays. His Suicide was amazing; to nitpick I thought he relied rather too much upon the bridge railings to remain upright at some point (he was applauded, so I was not the only one impressed).

One thing that is interesting to note is the fact that he sang the “thoughts fly apart” verse as if he was performing Valjean’s Soliloquy. I don’t know music theory, so I’ve no idea what it’s called, but he went a bit higher than normal? Changed the key? I obviously don't know what I'm speaking of.

You think you’ve seen/heard a Javert with clear diction? Hadley takes it one step further, particularly in “Javert’s Intervention”. "started run-ning”, “hunt-eed” - it sounds fairly ridiculous.

I truly enjoyed his performance. He could absolutely stand to be more subtle, though.

EDIT: Upon further thought, his Intervention was very poor.


Shaun Dalton (u/s Javert 28/09 & 03/10)
The 28th of September I must admit I was rather disappointed to discover that Hadley wasn’t on, the 3rd of October I hardly expected to see him (due to his involvement in Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary concerts that weekend). Shaun is a perfectly acceptable understudy Javert, but in my honest opinion too unremarkable to even hope of becoming principal anytime soon. He too does the “hunt-eed” thing in “Intervention”.

He’s fine, but he’s not someone I’d advise you to seek out specifically the way I would have at the time when Richard Woodford or Jeff Nicholson was the resident understudy.


Caroline Sheen (Fantine)
Vocally amazing! Definitely my new favourite Fantine, replacing Ruthie Henshall in the top spot. Not much to say about her acting, perfectly fine but nothing outstanding. Uhm, Cosette is apparently yet again but the approximate height of a 3-year-old, but complaining about that would be way too finicky, even for me.


Craig Mather (Marius)
…I don’t like him. I just don’t. I’ve yet to see him display an ounce of chemistry with either Cosette or Éponine, and that makes a dull Marius indeed. In July he made out with Cosette directly following Valjean’s death. I don’t really mind a little comforting kiss, but that seriously looked like frenching. He quit doing that at some point, luckily. His voice comes across very nicely on recordings; he’s quite pleasant to listen to. Live, I’m too distracted by sighing over his lack of remarkability to appreciate it properly.


Lisa-Anne Wood (Cosette)
Nothing to remark upon acting-wise, she’s fine. Vocally, her upper register is rather weak. Uncomfortably close to shrill at several points, but she never actually enters that territory. Her single high notes at the end of “A Heart Full of Love” and “One Day More” are good, though.


Matt Lucas (Thénardier)
I was not overly impressed by his O2 performance – a Thénardier who plays the comic relief throughout the show is rarely a good thing. The difference in his case is that he’s genuinely funny when seen live! I kind of hated him in his scenes with Marius during the Wedding, but other than that his line delivery was gold. “May I go?” in “Javert’s Intervention” springs to mind.


Cameron Blakely (replacement Thénardier)
I didn’t really pay much attention to him, but he struck me as being nothing much in particular. Not very funny, but not very sinister either. I might be missing something in his performance that other people will be able to observe, as with Martin Neely’s Grantaire in 2009/2010. I liked him in “Javert’s Intervention” - completely brought down by the power of the Javert!glare:)


Katy Secombe (Mme Thénardier)
Annoys me more than the average Madame T - technically, there’s not anything blatantly wrong with her performance, at least not anything I can put my finger on, so this is a mystery.


Alexia Khadime (Éponine)
I saw her play Elphaba in Wicked a couple of years ago and enjoyed her performance then. She has a great voice; she makes it all sound completely effortless and smooth. She does include a little riff at the end of On My Own, but I can live with that when the rest of the performance is this good. Her “A Little Fall of Rain” is absolutely lovely – I actually paid attention to her!

Acting-wise she has to take a lot of the blame for the lack of chemistry with Marius – I don’t like her in the Look Down/Robbery interlude with Marius at all. For a musical ’ponine though, I really rather like her. Plenty of people I’d rather see in the role, but she’s fine.


Liam Tamne (Enjolras)
Given that I’d barely heard of the guy, I was somewhat apprehensive. Fairly strong vocally – though there was no proper “free!” in July, his alternate yell in was good. The 3rd of October he seemed to have trouble putting too much power into his voice (and though he tried to go for “freee!” he was off pitch or something), but I didn’t notice anything like that in July. Acting-wise, very watchable but not outstanding.

In July, his characterisation was a bit off. Luckily, he changed his tune at some point, so he’s no longer doing the following:

1. Being a touch too disengaged in ABC Café - That was more than the appropriate amount of introspection going on there, whenever he didn’t have lines of his own.

2. Laughing in “Lamarque is Dead” – It was not even a “I just had a revelation, my dreams will come through” laughter, it had more of a “Yay, I finally get to kill people!” vibe. Okay, I admit I may be exaggerating on this point, but it was bad.

3. Grantaire pushed Enjolras into climbing back onto the barricade. *headdesk*

I like him, but it’s not an original take on the role.


Scott Garnham (u/s Enjolras 28th of Sept)
After getting home I discovered that he is/was up for the “Understudy of the Year” award on broadway.com. Can’t quite see what he did to merit that, but he’s certainly good. It was however the same kind of “good” as Liam Tamne is, solid but uninspired. I am obviously missing something significant here; other people who have seen him seem to pretty consistently be declaring that he’s the new big thing in the line of book!inspired Enjolrati.

Good vocals, until it became time for what I would call “the Big Three”: “arise!”, “call!” and “free!” His build-up was good, but he couldn’t get any power into the actual note (it ended up sounding more nasal than anything else, to be honest). His strongest scene was “One Day More”.

I would love to see him again in order to discover whether this was a one-off occurrence or whether I’m simply blind and deaf. As far as “recent” Enjolras covers goes, I currently prefer Dugdale (and I wasn’t enchanted with him). I’d also love to see his Marius (Fra Free’s too, for that matter).


Adam Linstead (Grantaire/Bishop)
Moaned in despair when I recognised him, but as suspected the real culprit behind the “noooooo!” was the Tour director. They’re still doing it stateside, though Joseph Spieldenner seems to do it than Adam ever did.

Now he’s completely inoffensive, but quite bland. He’s a bit too much the R “tolerated for his good-humour”, there’s not enough angst in there to suit my tastes (on the bright side,that means no melodramatic “nooooo!” either).

Very nice “And so the war was won?”, more hopeful than anything else. In “Drink With Me”, after he had his moment with Enjolras and a hug had been bestowed, he reached out a hand, aborted the motion before he made contact and stared at him as if he dearly wanted something more but didn’t dare to go for it. I thought that was a nice touch!

His Bishop (wow, has he cornered the ensemble market, or what? He even gets to be the Major-domo, what’s probably the most distinct ensemble part during the wedding feast!) is fine too, by the way. I’d quite like to see him go on as Thénardier, but mostly because I’d then get Daryl Armstrong as Grantaire. No matter, I’m almost certain that a sinister!Thénardier played by him would be too much to hope for.


Gavroche
Lewis Edgar - Has a cute lisp, quite good.
Daniel Huttlestone - Better than Lewis, good but not exceptional.


Ensemble
I was not thrilled to discover that most of the ensemble was made up of Tour alumni or newcomers. Less power to me, vocally I felt it was stronger than it has been for a good while! I didn’t notice any real stand-outs in the acting department, but at least I noticed a marked improvement by the time October rolled around. In July I described their acting as “rather meh”, enjoyed it better this time. Could do with some more individuality, though. George Miller and Dylan Williams are still around (Dance Captain/Swing and Joly), and while I don’t recognise the girls in the same way, so is A J Callaghan, Helen Owen and Emma Westhead.


Other comments

On the subject of Little Éponine – Little Éponine is a non-speaking part, consisting of skipping, smiling and pointing. When you cast Alexia Khadime as the adult Éponine, how hard can it be to cast three black girls to share the role of her childhood self? If they had done that, I could have amused myself by assuming Madame T once did meet her prince and ended up giving birth to a biracial child nine months later (there was a post in [livejournal.com profile] broadwaysecrets a while back to the same effect, I think? Not mine, but I agreed with that part of it). As it is, it’s rather jarring to have her grow up to become a young black woman. When I brought two of my friends to one of the Norwegian productions, they didn’t connect the Éponine of Look Down to the child they had seen on stage less than ten minutes earlier. They should have been able to, if they had paid attention, but they were not the only ones who didn’t. When the character suddenly changes race as well, I think it may cause some unnecessary confusion.

Beggars at the Feast - I’m annoyed by the current “Beggars at the Feast” thing where the entire show is completely halted while Thénardier waits for Madame T to return from her out-of-control twirl. As in, he gets the conductor started the exact same way as he does at the beginning of the song, with the staff of the Major-Domo. It started with Lucas and Blakely is still doing it.


Like I said, criticising it is just my way of showing my love.

Dream Cast

As a point of interest, if I currently had to choose a personal Dream Cast, these would be my choices (my only prerequisite is having seen them perform live at least once):

Valjean – Jonathan Williams
Javert - Robert Hunt, I guess? He’s the one that springs to mind, at least.
Fantine – Caroline Sheen
Marius – Jon Robyns
Cosette – Leanne Dobinson (followed by Katie Hall)
Éponine – Nancy Sullivan (more because I like her than her being perfect, though)
Enjolras – David Thaxton
Grantaire - Michael Minarik or Jeff Nicholson, I guess.

Couldn’t care less about the Thénardiers. Chip Zien/Greg Castiglioni/Roy Litvin and ?

Date: 2011-11-04 02:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mmebahorel.livejournal.com
I can see the race issue in London where cast changes are done as a group - it does make sense, especially as you don't need a singer for Young Eponine. In the US, we've always just had to deal because Young Eponine and Young Cosette alternate in the singing role, so there's no way to "match" unless all 6 (two girls, two covers for each adult) are all the same race. Because it is cute as hell when you get a "match" racially as we're just not used to it :)

Cameron's back! I saw Cameron back in 2000 (1999 cast). No strong opinion on him then, sounds like nothing's different now, but wow, fun to see that name come up :)

Is it bad that I'm thinking "As long as Alexia Khadime is better than Chasten Harmon, and Lisa-Anne Wood is less annoying than Jenny Latimer, it'll be fine"? I think I'm going next month (unless somehow there are no tickets for any of my free dates), and after some of the annoyances of the tour, I think I'm most looking forward to the improved lighting design and being able to actually see the ensemble :)

Date: 2011-11-04 08:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lovemoony4ever.livejournal.com
Right now, two girls (Chloe and Shakira) are actually alternating in London too, while Megan/Christina only play Cosette and Louisa/Anya only go on as Éponine. I'm pretty sure I had Anya once, but as Chloe is the only one prolific enough to have pictures on the web I can't say for certain about Louisa.

Haha, I actually read that review of yours yesterday;) I recently saw someone say they liked him, so to be fair it might just be me this time around.

Alexia is definitely better than the little I've seen of Chasten, and while Lisa-Anne may come dangerously close to offending your eardrums on a bad day, she's not annoying per se (incidentally, I've yet to see a single person not complain about Jenny Latimer). The current cast is far from the strongest I've ever seen in London, but it's not too bad.

God, the lighting design. I tried to force myself to watch some Tour clips, but I gave up quickly because I just couldn't see a thing.

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