“With much sledgehammer-like subtlety, Victor Hugo’s novel blasts onstage in a performance that, by no surprise, marks a justification for the musical’s 16th consecutive year in the West End.
Recalling that the original production was by the Royal Shakespeare Company – can its restructuring repeat such highs? – this show crushes later rivals that attempted to conquer such grandiose spectacle.
Les Miserables has a mosaic of characters – police, prostitutes and pragmatic students – woven onto an automatically dramatic backdrop of tragic revolution in France where there is glory in death for a cause.
Its real star, apart from a world-class performance by Hans-Peter Janssens as fugitive turned fighter Jean Valjean, is the pounding, slippery, exquisite score by Claude-Michel Schonberg. Like the production, it has heavy operatic influence. The music is almost incidentally orchestrated, perched to provide a clear path for the vocal crescendos. The score is also oddly uncommercial. There are few hummable choruses with plain chord structure but there are dozens of intricate, consistently strong melodies that carry Herbert Kretzmer’s digestible lyrics.
This wielding backbone is augmented by designer John Napier’s revolving stage, atmospherically effective with David Hersey’s lighting and directors John Caird and Trevor Nunn crackling over decades and cities.
Although almost every number is as strong as a finale, the passion – death, romance or obsession – often provides touching moments such as policeman Javert’s search of the dead and Valjean’s Bring Him Home.
The swinging rowdiness of Master of the House is a welcome variance from the enthralling pomposity of the show’s unrelenting ambition, which supersedes itself when Javert avows to the stars that he will hunt down Valjean. Les Mis is an overwhelming and exhilarating experience that remains a grand daddy musical. ” The Stage