Les Miserables In Concert


Reviewed by: Ben Sillis

I do love musicals. Sometimes. Despite being a bloke, I know all the words to Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Grease - even the song with all those made-up words - and various other toe-tappers. But musicals suffer from the Marmite Love It or Hate It effect, as anyone who has ever sat through Oklahoma! will tell you with a glazed and distant look in their eyes, and it's with regret that I must confine Les Miserables to the same category.

Cameron Mackintosh's production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's musical has been going on for nigh on 20 years in London's West End and, to celebrate, this DVD makes available for the first time the 10th Anniversary 1996 concert performance at the Royal Albert Hall.

The adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel tells of a reformed convict, Jean Valjean, who is unable to escape his past in the time of great social upheaval in France at the beginning of the 19th century. It's an epic tale of family, love and forgiveness on the barricades of Parisian streets and through the dripping underground sewers. At least, I think it is, because I couldn't be sure from watching this. The poor, opera-lite lyrics mean that it's utterly incomprehensible.

Stage performances tend to look flat and muted on screen, anyway, but this must surely have done so for the audience as well. It's the "10th Anniversary Concert", and concert it most certainly is. The cast sit on a row of chairs waiting for their turn to sing on a narrow stage. To narrate the action, intertitles appear every now and again and stills from an actual performance of the musical - you know, one where everyone moves about and acts - are inserted. This, of course, beggars the question: why not just film a performance instead? This should have been sold as an audio CD.

My main objection is that a show cannot possibly sustain interest if the songs last for the entire duration of the performance. The best musicals involve the cast breaking into song and dance only intermittently, where, as here, the music is constant and frankly uninspiring. It's prose stretched out to sound like a song and it takes the spontaneity, excitement and sparkle out of it completely.

However, if you do already like Les Miserables, you may well still love this; it's an all-star team of sorts, comprising the finest actors from Les Miz performances the world over. It includes the likes of Olivier award winning Philip Quast, as the determined police inspector Javert, and Michael Ball (the one who got his face smashed in in Braveheart), but it's Colm Wilkinson who stands out, as the noble outlaw Valjean, with one of the most stunning singing voices I've heard in a long while. It's just a shame the music and lyrics do him no credit whatsoever.

Oh, and be prepared for the absurdly pretentious encore, which "unites" the cast of various international productions to sing in many languages. It's shameless, self-congratulatory stuff.

Reviewed on: 26 Nov 2005
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Les Miserables In Concert packshot
10th Anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
Amazon link

Director: John Caird, Paul Kafno, Gavin Taylor

Writer: Alain Boublil, based on the novel by Victor Hugo

Starring: Colm Wilkinson, Philip Quast, Ruthie Henshall, Jenny Galloway, Alun Armstrong, Lea Salonga, Michael Ball, Michael Maguire, Judy Kuhn, Anthony Crivello, Adam Searles, Hannah Chick

Year: 1996

Runtime: 150 minutes

Country: UK


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