Auckland Music Theatre and The Amici Trust give Auckland audiences the chance to watch one of the world’s best musicals in Les Misérables – and this local production doesn’t disappoint.
There’s good reason Les Misérables is the longest-running musical in London’s West End. It’s grand, it’s dramatic, it’s tragic, it’s hopeful and it features some of the best-known songs in musical theatre. It’s also well-loved in its film version starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway.
The story follows Jean Valjean as he goes on a journey of redemption after nineteen years of hard labour as prisoner 24601 for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child. His nemesis, and former prison guard, police inspector Javert relentlessly pursues Valjean who is now a fugitive due to breaking his parole after destroying the yellow ticket which declared his previous crimes. Along the way they become swept up in the revolutionary action against the government, leading to inevitable clashes and life-changing drama.
On opening night, there were a few sound issues early on which gave the production a bit of a shaky start. However, by 20 minutes in everyone had found their stride and we were in for a spectacular night of theatre from homegrown performers.
The heavy hitters in the show are of course Valjean and Javert but more on them later. The cast creates an energy immediately that brings home the pain and heart of this musical perfectly. All should be commended for their vocal prowess and the intensity of their presence on stage as a group. The ensemble of Kiwi talent is proof that a local production can carry the heft of world-class theatre.
When it comes to delivering the big numbers, Rebecca Wright gives it her all in an admirable performance of the iconic ‘I dreamed a dream’ as the impoverished Fantine. Will Martin, Emily Robinson and Alexandra Francis all share some great moments and each shine during their solo songs. ‘Lovely Ladies’ is a feast of voices and choreography and the excellent ‘One Day More’ is a show stopper like no other that this cast delivers with enough passion to reach every seat in the house, closing the first half of the show to rapturous applause.
Among the young cast, Lucy Singleton as young Cosette and Mathew Curtis as Gavroche more than hold their own on stage as performers, both commanding respect for their solo efforts. Singleton’s voice was simply stunning and Curtis struts and gestures to depict the bravado and bravery of his character while delivering an energetic and enjoyable ‘Litte People’.
A special mention is needed for the hugely entertaining duo Hamish McGregor and Theresa Wells as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier. Every brilliant stumbling entrance, grimace, cackle and grotesque thrust is in need of praise. Their energy never falters and these hideously wonderful characters are given the actors they deserve. McGregor’s ‘Master of the House’ is one of the highlights of the show.
Now on to the big guns. Taking on the theatrical titans of Les Mis are James Mackay as Jean Valjean and Hayden Tee as Javert. Both lead the charge in ‘One Day More’ to a skin tingling finish and they demand our attention at every turn. Anytime either of these excellent performers hit the big notes it was impressive and the audience lapped it up.
Tee has returned to Auckland after having played this role around the world and he’s just completed a run playing Miss Trunchbull in Matilda in the West End. His pedigree is evident from the get-go as he brings the gravitas needed to make Javert the powerhouse he needs to be both vocally and physically.
Mackay too brings the stamina of voice and performance to deliver an emotionally raw performance of the determined and complex character Valjean. He received many cheers and applause on opening night from the audience but most notably for ‘Who Am I’ and ‘Bring Him Home’.
The action doesn’t stop with the actors, the impressive big-scale set transports you to 19th century France including tenement backdrop, misty bridges and revolving barricades. The impressive depiction of Javert’s demise was a real collaborative feat of direction, sound, lighting and set design. Throughout the show, powerful lighting aids the story in both mood and storytelling. The costumes too are well executed in their authenticity and theatrical necessity.
This Kiwi cast present a spectacular production of Les Misérables that’s as grand and breathtaking as the Civic Theatre itself.
Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar