Tag Archives: Bradley Jaden

Treason the Musical in Concert – Cadogon Hall

Treason the Musical - Cadogan Hall

With 2020’s Guy Fawkes celebrations sacrificed to restrictions and next November still far away, it may seem like a strange time to premiere a new musical based on the Gunpowder Plot. But we’ve been in lockdown for so long it’s hard to know what month it is and a Spring preview of Treason the Musical gives creators Ricky Allan and Kieran Lynn plenty of time to work on their next iteration for an autumn staging. Filmed as live and streamed from Cadogan Hall, this 50-minute concert staging certainly suggests a production with a lot of fantastic material and plenty of room to expand.

Musicals set in centuries past are surprisingly few and far between given the scope for flamboyant costume, stylised dance and dramatic stories. Two recent shows have not only caught the popular imagination but managed to bring history to life by giving it a contemporary resonance using musical style, tone and design with Six, based on the wives of Henry VIII, and of course Hamilton about a Founding Father of America, demonstrating how to create very human insights into famous stories.

Reaching back to the final days of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, through the accession of a new monarch whose failure to bring religious tolerance to England underlies the plot to eradicate the ruling class, and concluding with the round-up of the co-conspirators, Allan and Lynn’s musical covers a lot of ground. Framed by the grief of Thomas Percy’s widow Martha (Lucie Jones), Treason the Musical is told in flashback using a female perspective on a story that is, in the history books at least, exclusively male.

The action is also directed by a female Narrator who summarises large chunks of the story in rhyme that transport the viewer back and forth through time, outlines the growing contextual frustration that drives the Plotters, presents the characters while introducing and sometimes explaining their interior life. It is a useful structure, particularly in this Cadogan Hall try-out where digital viewers are guided through the sparsely-staged story and its numerous inter-locking plot points.

And there is much to admire in Allan and Lynn’s approach which eschews the character of Guido Fawkes – who does not appear at all – to focus on Thomas Percy in the first half and in the second on the driving force of Robert Catesby who instigated and coordinated the conspiracy (in this retelling). In doing so, Treason The Musical is also interested in the wider impact of religious persecution after Elizabeth I’s long rule, the quickly fractured hope of a new age and the sacrificial wishes of some of the individuals involved. 50-minutes is not quite long enough to explore and develop these themes sufficiently but the foundation of a bigger musical is clearly in place.

The Songs

Allan has composed twelve consistent songs that draw on both traditional musical theatre and more historically-appropriate folk styles in the score to bridge the 400 year gap between the events relayed and the viewing audience. Together they make an atmospheric combination, one that is generally favourable and sympathetic to the schemers, offering psychological depth in places as well as a growing fervour of discontent as the events of 1605 accelerate. The opening number When Will I See You Again sung by Martha Percy reflects on mourning her husband Thomas, immediately reorientating a historical story that we think we know so well and suggesting the very personal and painful consequences for this women. It sets the tone for a show that is shaped both by the inevitability of its outcome (we all know how it ended) and our preconceived, distorted and disassociated socially manufactured understanding of the Gunpowder Plot.

Allan’s approach seeks to restore the everyday reality to this intrigue and the humanity of its proponents, exploring this in the more dramatic and insightful numbers given to the leads. Blind Faith, a duet for the Percys, for example examines the strain on their marriage, an obsessional number in which Martha descries losing her husband to the cause while Thomas explores his obsession with Robert Catesby, simultaneously sharing lyrics but speaking about quite different relationships. Similarly, Catesby’s first big number I’ve Got a Plot (that rhymes anarchy with monarchy) has a beating pulse that builds as he tries to inspire his gathered colleagues, suggesting both the danger of their meeting and the conviction required to instigate such a deadly action.

While the tone is largely quite serious, a single encounter with King James provides the show’s only true comic number when Thomas delivers a letter from the Earl of Northumberland to the Scottish King in 1603 acquiring promises of tolerance for Catholic subjects. It is a high point of the show, richly characterised by Daniel Boys in the role of the Stuart heir that plays with notions of James’s reputed sexuality as well as making him a spoiled, needy and demanding brat who addresses both Thomas and the audience quite differently while warming to the idea of his own beneficence should he inherit the English throne – there are notes of Hamilton‘s George III. James should really have a light Scottish accent but this is a character who demands at least another song if not several in an extended version of Treason the Musical.

The Narrator never sings but Allan and Lynn’s use of verse and rhyming couplets is another nod to the style of the era. When James ascends the throne and quickly fails to honour his promise of tolerance, the story escalates dramatically, mirrored in the pace of the Narrator’s speech which turns into rap and beat poetry, as Allan and Lynn again traverse the boundary between traditional verse and contemporary rhythms to add shape and variety to the different ways that information, plot developments and character insight are conveyed within the structure of the show.

Character-Led

The way we are taught to collectively remember history is event-driven, signified by key dates, simplified stories and moments of change or linear progress. So our modern impression of the Gunpowder Plot is shaped by our knowledge of its outcome and the associated annual celebrations that make the original events feel more like a cartoon strip than a dangerous sequence of activities involving people as real as we are. Allan and Lynn have taken a valuable character-based approach to the creation of Treason the Musical and while there is more development to be done here, there is a solid underpinning of complex and conflicting motivations across the characters they have chosen to follow that offer interesting and potentially affecting portraits of hazily understood individuals.

Primarily, Treason the Musical sees the events of 1603-5 from the perspective of Thomas Percy whose own fluctuating emotional state is the audience’s guide through the story. As an emissary from the Duke of Northumberland (an underused Cedric Neal) to King James, Thomas is optimistic that a new age of acceptance is about to dawn, revealed in the number All We Dreamed and More. The rapid decline of that fantasy draws him into the circle and thrall of Catesby where his dissastisfaction is transformed into murderous intent.

Treason the Musical is not quite there in fully articulating that journey but there are hints enough in this first draft for singer Bradley Jaden (After You and Les Miserables: The Staged Concert) to capture Thomas’s frustration and readiness to act. That he finds solace in Catesby’s charismatic company is clear and the score builds to a Les Miserables-like stridency that is often engrossing. In a longer runtime there is much more to Thomas’s character that could be explored; perhaps a duet with Catesby to compound the feelings of admiration, some post-Plot reflections on whether it was worth it or last thoughts about his wife and his own death. Thomas certainly deserves one or more solos to tell us more about his motivation.

Oliver Tompsett (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) as Robert Catesby is the Enjolras figure of Treason the Musical, quickly making his mark in the second half of the show with his blazing fervour for change in Got To Take Things Into Our Own Hands that leads quickly into the rabble rousing I’ve Got a Plot. It’s a great role for Tompsett who fills Robert with fire and certainty and, again, a longer production could explore his charm and impact on others in greater depth. Allan also gives Robert a fascinating piece of psychology with a backstory that uses the death of his wife to suggest his own desire for a speedy end. The haunting solo Cold, Hard Ground brilliantly implies that Robert Catesby was determined to die on one hill or another, and the Gunpowder Plot was a convenience – it is a really strong character point that offers plenty of scope for development in the future.

The remaining cast – though filled with great musical theatre talent – has far less to work with in their roles with Boys and Neal under-utilised as King James and the Earl of Northumberland, while the secondary cast including Rebecca LaChance, Waylon Jacobs, Emmanuel Kojo and Sharon Rose provide some beautiful harmonies and vocal support in representing the wider conspirators and their circle. Debris Stevenson doesn’t sing but as Narrator is key to welcoming and authoritatively guiding the audience through this story. Even with additional songs and an expanded life for some of the characters, the role of the Narrator in any future iteration is a crucial one, not least in offering a non-gendered role while underscoring the themes of storytelling, memory and inevitability that drive the action.

The Future of Treason the Musical

There is a huge amount here for Allan, Lynn and their creative team to be quite proud of and a future draft of the show can only build-on and expand the impressive material they already have in place. But there is still some work to do to really flesh-out the concepts the musical is exploring as well as envisaging what a staged performance might look like. Key to this is length and this first-look implies the show could feasibly double its runtime, dividing neatly into a Two Act structure that allows the creators to burrow a little deeper either into the build-up to the 5 November 1605 and the motivation of key individuals, or its aftermath where the writers could speculate on those last hours surrounded in Holbeche House.

Using the existing material, there are two possible options; the first would see Act One consider the context for religious dissatisfaction, why the broken promises of King James’s early reign took men to the point of no return and the pressures Thomas and Martha Percy experienced as Catholics forced to hide their faith, concluding at the point of putting the conspiracy into practice with I’ve Got a Plot – a good finale song. Act Two could then dramatise the days before and after 5 November which the current draft skips over, leaving the Narrator to slightly unsatisfactorily tell the audience about the main event.

Alternatively, leaving the familiar parts of the story to the audience’s already primed minds, the show could consider much of the existing material Act One but introduce a more reflective second where the men could muse on their decisions, the cause and what it means to so fatally fail. There are many examples in theatre and literature of such introspective moments, from the night before Agincourt in Henry V to the eve of the Somme in Birdsong and even in Les Miserables behind the barricade. In each, men quietly commune with their souls before facing the enemy one last time. A similar exploration of that moment of pause in the siege at Holbeche would add a new dimension to this story and the unfamiliar aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot where all we really teach is that the men were pursued, surrounded and savagely punished. This would add weight to Martha’s final contemplation of the personal cost to a newly-minted widow.

How the show would work in practice will help to clarify some of this, by thinking about the transitions between songs and if additional score or book is needed to facilitate changes of scene, perspective and mood. That this concert staging of Treason the Musical directed by Hannah Chissick leaves you wanting a little bit more is a good thing and testament to the exciting work that Allan and Lynn have produced here. What they have is a tantalising first draft that offers plenty of options for development, some strong character portraits and a platform for expansion. Most importantly, they have something new to say and by the time November comes around, Treason the Musical may be ready to explode.

Treason the Musical in Concert was performed at Cadogon Hall and was available to stream from 12-14 March. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook Cultural Capital Theatre Blog.


After You – Tonight at the London Coliseum

After You - Tonight at the London Coliseum

Another week, another musical theatre innovation as Alex Parker and Katie Lam premiere a new piece of work as part of the Tonight at the London Coliseum series of concert performances managed by Stream Theatre. After a successful preview at Brasserie Zedel back in 2017, After You makes its first official West End appearance at the currently closed venue on St Martin’s Lane, using a little of the technique from other streamed performances such as the Old Vic’s In Camera productions to showcase the beautiful auditorium while making space for new writing.

Running at only 55 minutes, After You is a brief but well constructed story about musical theatre’s favourite theme – love. But like The Last Five Years currently in revival at Southwark Playhouse, this story is less the straightforward tale of boy meets girl who live happily ever after than a two-hander that plays with convention to examine the nature and reliability of a connection generated between two people at a crossroads while considering grand notions of universal insignificance – to slightly misquote Rick Blaine at the end of Casablanca, ‘the problems of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world’.

Structurally, the story is set chronologically on two legs of a cruise ship travelling between London and New York in which the male and female characters meet accidentally. She is an American lawyer based in London heading home after her grandmother dies, he is a singer employed on the ship but looking for a big break in the US. Parker and Lam envisage a sequence of scenes told through book and songs in which the couple get to know each other on the outward voyage in Act One which lasts around 40-minutes, while the much shorter Act Two takes place 2 weeks later on the return journey as the consequences of their relationship play out.

In staging After You, director Jordan Murphy takes inspiration from the Old Vic, visually framing this story against the beautiful interior of the London Coliseum, placing the actors, musicians and cameras backwards on the stage. While theatres remained largely closed, streamed shows are as much a reminder of the venues themselves as the work being performed, but the decision also sits well with Parker and Lam’s attempts to contextualise the unfolding relationship between the unnamed couple, making them seem small in the looming emptiness of the auditorium behind them.

It is a tricky sell, creating an imaginary cruise ship with no scenery, sound effects or even the hint of tidal movement with the couple relocating from the arrivals hall to the lounge bars, their rooms and even the star-filled deck of the ship on a warm night. And there are no visuals to guide the audience through any of that, relying solely on the descriptions of time and place that the cast provide in the book and songs.

The Tonight at the London Coliseum series is not performed live which allows Murphy to make judicious use of cuts to advance the story more quickly than perhaps would be possible in a standard performance when time for set and costume changes would slow the pace. Given its origins in the intimate Brasserie Zedel space, Parker and Lam’s material has been constructed for a small venue without the trappings of a bigger staging where additional music or secondary characters would be required to cover periods when the primary cast are off-stage or need to swap location. The smaller scale created by streaming and the possibilities of pre-filmed editing techniques make these transitions far more practical than they would be in live performance.

The ways in which Murphy creates physical location is sparring but surprisingly evocative even in a venue as sizeable and ornate as the London Coliseum where opera and dance usually fill its stage. A performer in a coat wheels on a suitcase to indicate their arrival on the ship, a table appears with two glasses of wine for a getting-to-know you date while the lighting designer peppers the stage and the auditorium with star shapes under a purple light to imply the romantic night sky as the couple – again in coats – are drawn together on the deck of the liner. It is effectively done and while you may initially miss the bustle of other passengers, and the view of plush interiors or seascapes, very soon its absence barely registers at all.

Despite the lack of scenery and very few props, the musical never looks lost on this vast stage; at no point is the audience anywhere but on this cruise ship as a connection is forged between two strangers and with the audience. And that is down to the strength of character development. Parker and Lam have created two people who credibly sustain our attention and interest for an hour, giving them songs that evoke their interior lives and add sufficient shades of grey to suggest a more rounded emotional and physical existence beyond the immediate circumstances in which they find themselves.

The central couple are opposites of one another and their relationship is explored through the eight individual songs, some of which are briefly reprised as they must identify and then manage their growing feelings, and After You reveals these character insights through a series of duets and solo numbers that unfold like internal monologue. Unlike many love stories, the characters hardly ever sing to one another and duets depict the pair expressing similar or opposite feelings in isolation, revealing their thoughts to themselves and the audience alone which supports the misunderstandings and misdirection that drive Act Two.

It begins with This Time, a micro-character study that gives the viewer rapid insight into these two people as the journey begins. He is content with his life, happy to be where he is, living in the moment and hoping that nothing will change; she is unhappy, stuck in her own head and unable to find a way forward, unsure of what she really wants. And this song sets the scene for their interactions as the story unfolds through the second number as he bombards her with questions she seems reluctant to answer – notably the only time the couple share a song in which they actively converse – all the way through to song number eight the titular After You where both reflect on what might have been, him looking forward to a new start, her somewhat regretting the chance she didn’t take.

There is a melancholy to the music of After You with its classic musical theatre song styles performed richly by Parker on piano, guitarist Alex Hillman, bassist Adam Higgs, Will Hillman on violin and Dave Hornberger on cello who remain onstage throughout, the focus of cutaway shots in lieu of scene changes.

Parker and Lam decide not to make this a sung-through show and include a fair amount of dialogue that works very well in helping to build the relationship in a short amount of time. The writers have created a warm flirtiness between them that feels sweet and fairly realistic as these tentative friends debate the peculiarities of English idioms and develop a candidness that only strangers can experience where there are no consequences or feelings to hurt. Yet, there is no sense of the characters rushing into an emotional entanglement, the end of Act One leaves them considering a connection they haven’t outwardly expressed and it is only in the absence of one another that imaginations run wild, based on relatively little solid information. As Act Two opens, there is also a very well played argument as they talk over, contradict and rage at one another which heightens the tension well.

The female character is the more complex of the two as she navigates some difficult background circumstances that make her a reticent and sometimes self-destructive presence. There is an inner absence in the character that draws on the expanse and anonymity of America, explaining she is from a place “as nowhere as nowhere can be without being nowhere” and there are indications that her life in the UK is unhappily restricted to the ex-pat community where she hasn’t enjoyed living in London or even spent time understanding British culture, as her early conversations with him explain.

Performed by Alexia Khadime, she has a nervousness that is partially explained at the start of Act Two as the pair are sent in opposite directions, but sits permanently beneath the character who feels undeserving of attention or consideration. This gives Khadime the chance to show her range, exploring the excitement of the early meetings but also guilt, fear and anger as a frostiness creeps into the performance. The character makes an unlikely lawyer however, which would require a greater degree of certainty and confidence at least professionally assumed if not truly felt, but her logical, pessimistic approach contrasts well with the creative freedom of her fellow traveler.

Khadime’s voice is beautiful, making the most of the more emotionally insightful songs including her big number A World There to Discover in Act Two where she descries the missed opportunity. For the first time the character is vocalising the contrast between the life she had hoped for and the feeling of having left things too late, of missing the boat. There are tones of Sondheim here in her regrets, particularly The Road You Didn’t Take and while the character is far younger than Ben Stone, there is the same sense of having made a choice that she must abide be, knowing the rest of her life will never quite live-up to the fantasy of this one encounter.

After his superb performance as the firebrand Enjolras in last year’s Les Miserables: The Staged Concert Bradley Jaden plays an entirely different type of character, revealing a softer heart, happy to go with the flow but entirely caught off-guard by his connection to the lonely woman he meets aboard. He begins the show with a lie about his origins, feigning an American accent on the outward journey that he admits is to attract women, living a night time lifestyle of cruise performances and sleeping till 3pm. Like his partner, the essential goodness of the character means he never quite convinces as a lothario but Jaden uses those hidden depths to make the impact of the relationship feel credible in the remainder of the show.

This character is concerned with the bigger picture, thinking about himself in the context of the universe, fascinated by the night sky and the opportunities life presents. Seeking a permanent position in New York, Jaden gives him a playful quality, keen to enjoy every experience, eager to meet new people and to be an appealingly companion. But his emotional investment shifts and the more creative elements of his personality cause him to invest far more and quickly in the relationship that perhaps he expects, an aspect Jaden plays convincingly as the character runs away with the chance that presents itself.

His big number Voice Inside My Head is delightful, charting that alteration at the end of Act Two and (like Michael Sheen at the Old Vic) Jaden briefly turns his back to the camera to address the empty London Coliseum auditorium doubling as the great unknown. Unlike the female character, however, there is a sense of change in him during the grand finale number After You, and while he remains a positive force, the character is now open to a closer connection in a way that perhaps he wasn’t a few weeks before.

The 20-minutes of Act Two do need to be lengthened, either delaying the big revelation a little longer or finding some other way to bring the characters together for a time in the aftermath of the truth telling. And while some of the elements of this story will always require a simple live theatre staging, character investment is strong from the beginning, so much so that the slightly abrupt ending leaves the audience feeling the characters deserve just a little more time to reach a satisfying ending – though not a different one. In straightened circumstances, that a new piece of work is here at all is incredibly important and in a genre awash with love stories this small character-driven piece should have a bright future.

After You was performed as part of the Tonight at the London Coliseum concert series made available by Stream Theatre. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook Cultural Capital Theatre Blog

NB – A digital programme was unavailable so character names and song titles are assumed.


Les Miserables: The Stage Concert – Gielgud Theatre

Les Miserables The Staged Concert - Gielgud Theatre

After 34 uninterrupted years, Les Misérables has a strong claim to be the greatest musical ever written and 2019 is proving to be one of the most memorable in its history. Victor Hugo’s redemptive tale of an ex-convict discovering his lost soul through the love of a child amidst the revolutionary fervor of the Parisian underworld received a starry six-part BBC period drama by Andrew Davies earlier this year and it is a story that continues to captivate. But in 1985 it was beautifully and evocatively adapted by composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricst Alain Boublil (English translation by Herbert Kretzmer), condensing Hugo’s broad sweep and focus on compassion for all of humanity into a neat three-hour show. Les Misérables is nothing if not a call to arms, a melodious message to fight for the things that matter and above all to be kind, to ask yourself whether “You Hear the People Sing?”

Having previously been staged at the Barbican and a long run at the Palace Theatre, Les Misérables moved into the Queen’s Theatre in 2004. But the soon to be renamed Sondheim Theatre is being renovated before the touring version is (somewhat controversially for fans of the original revolve) permanently installed on Shaftesbury Avenue. So, producer Cameron Mackintosh has stripped back his most well-known show to create a staged concert version running at the neighbouring Gielgud Theatre for four months which will allow Les Misérables to retain its position as longest running West End show.

It’s actually a rather canny move and one that speaks nicely to the show’s own performance history. Concert versions have been staged for key anniversaries, welcoming back a fantasy league of theatre stars who have passed through its UK and International ranks but never appeared together. Most recently the 25th Anniversary Concert was held at the O2 in 2010 but it was the 10th Anniversary Concert at the Royal Albert Hall that has never been bettered – Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, Ruthie Henshall as Fantine, Alan Armstrong as Thénardier, Lea Salonger as Éponine and Michael Ball as the original and definitive Marius.

With directing credits for James Powell and Jean Pierre Van Der Spuy, this new version is essentially semi-staged in what is a fully acted approach from the cast with performers in costume to embody their character and some props. It uses a technically excellent but also meaningful lighting design primarily to shift between the many locations of Hugo’s story as well as the 15 or so years that it covers. The prepared stage opens with a lighting rig crashed like a barricade across the space which rises up to reveal four large microphone stands during those famous opening bars.

The lighting design is particularly striking, emphasising the changing moods and purpose of the vocals. One of Les Misérables  most notable features are the generous solos given to all the key characters that rapidly and effectively reveal their psychological state, motivations and often tragic pre-history. These are lit with care, picking out the more spiritual conversations of Valjean, Fantine and later Javert in bright white and pale blue, changing the intensity of the spotlights or combining them as the singer peaks, while opting for darker purples and greens for the murkier scenarios including Cosette’s childhood enslavement and the Thénardier sewer.

Most notable though is how vividly the team create the feeling of violent action at the barricade, bathing the stage in red light as the stationary students are picked-off one by one with blasts of white light like individual bullets darting across the stage to their target. It is a key scene in the fully staged version on a real barricade that lingers on their sacrifice during ‘The Final Battle’, but is cleverly and effectively rendered on the smaller Gielgud stage here.

Powell and Van Der Spuy also maintain the audience’s attention with a number of small moments that prevent the show from seeming too static including a meaningful approach to character entrances and exits. Matt Kinley has designed three routes to the stage with a staircase at the back between choir stalls that house the ensemble and a metal gantry that lowers into place from above to create variation in height and volume – although core performances are all given at the downstage microphones. Departing performers freeze in their final moments to cast meaningful glances that summarise their struggles; Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Fantine reacts to her daughter Cosette crossing her path, while Shan Ako’s Éponine turns to offer-up a final glance at Marius as she departs. These moments add poignancy and credibility to the performances, a concert version that still ably creates and conveys Hugo’s world.

Like its predecessors, 2019’s Les Misérables: The Staged Concert will be long remembered as another notable event in the musical’s performance history, heralding the return of Michael Ball to a show he helped to establish, but this time in the role of Javert. Recently, Ball was described as the last great musical star, with fame extending beyond the regular theatre-going audience. Now a household name with TV and radio success, a Eurovision runner-up in the days when the UK stood a chance, and chart success as well as frequent appearances in shows from Aspects of Love to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sweeney Todd and Hairspray to which he returns next year, Ball’s star has never dimmed.

As Marius, Ball captured all the complexities of the lonely student dazzled by the revolutionary passion of his friends but distracted by love. Schönberg and Boublil may have compressed hundreds of pages of character development into a few group numbers, duets and one major solo, but Michael Ball’s rendition of the desolating ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ at the 10th Anniversary Concert in particular is a sublime moment in musical theatre history, his voice breaking with emotional despair in the song’s rolling crescendo. That ability to pinpoint and powerfully convey the core of his characters, to unfold the breadth of their interior life makes his casting as Javert such an intriguing prospect, enough to draw audiences who may not have seen the show for years.

The relationship between Jean Valjean and Javert underpins the action, driving the narrative as they collide at different points. The casting of collaborators and friends Alfie Boe and Ball uses their playful yet competitive chemistry to great effect, yielding plenty of rewards for the audience. As Javert, Ball has the most difficult role to pitch, cast as a villain of sorts, operating with an inflexible moral code but through two solos must extract the pathos that Hugo also built into all of the character.

Schönberg and Boublil use Javert as chief antagonist, a harsh and unyielding figure in most of Act One, Javert’s main failing is not his hatred for Valjean but a refusal to accept that people can change, and it is this sudden realisation that determines his path through Act Two. Javert’s first solo ‘Stars’ is an important insight into this belief system, an idea of constancy and stability in which he maintains his faith. Ball sings this with great power, prompting a spontaneous standing ovation from a few audience members. The same occurs with ‘Soliloquy’ his final number as Ball’s Javert unpacks the unravelling of his mind with great meaning, leading movingly to his final turbulent release. It is a big coup for Les Misérables to have tempted him back and it proves a memorable performance – perhaps in the years ahead we may see his Valjean too.

Alfie Boe reprises a role he played next door and in the 25th Anniversary Concert. His operatic voice responds with ease to the changing registers of Valjean’s music but they allow Boe to vary the force of his delivery as his character’s circumstances and mental state fluctuate throughout the show. There is a predominant softness in his tone that reflects Valjean’s gentle nature and the essential goodness of heart that Hugo so carefully charts across the novels 1200 pages. Yet Boe uses the full power of his tenor range in Valjean’s moments of deep crisis, grappling with his own conscience in the Prologue numbers as the Bishop grants him a second chance, and later when the arrest of his lookalike forces him into a confession in the seismic ‘Who Am I?’

In some ways this is a very generous performance by Boe, allowing other cast members to shine, especially in the second half when political and romantic events among the younger generation dominate the story. But this is where Boe also delivers his best work; any Valjean will rise or fall on his ‘Bring Him Home’ and here it is all it should be, a huge transition for man about to lose everything he’s been living for, delivered with emotional might and rewarded with an extended audience ovation.

Les Misérables: The Staged Concert has a few other star names including Matt Lucas’s return as Thénardier in a great partnership with Katy Secombe. ‘Master of the House’ never fails to please the crowd, but Lucas and Secombe add some extra comedy asides and ad libs which the audience adore, although arguably the more serious ‘Dog Eats Dog’ is Lucas’s finest moment with Thénardier ruling the sewers and descrying the loss of God. Carrie Hope Fletcher is a sweet and tragic Fantine, a small role but she makes the first major solo of the show (‘I Dreamed a Dream’) a moving experience.

Any project like this celebrates the show’s past but also has an eye to its future and the younger cast members more than hold their own. The fervent rebel leader Enjolras is one of Les Misérables most exciting characters and Schönberg and Boublil have given him some rousing music which Bradley Jaden delivers exceptionally. Shan Ako is wonderful in Éponine’s ‘On My Own’ but Rob Houchen has the hardest role of all, standing next to the greatest ever Marius and trying to deliver his take on the character. Houchen may be a dreamier, more romantic version of Marius than Ball’s but his ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ is a strong moment for him.

If you go to the theatre often, the focus is so often on the new, the next production, a new play or rising star that we dismiss the long-running musicals as tourist fodder. But revisiting Les Misérables for this staged concert is a reminder why this show has lasted so long as well seeing a new chapter in its performance history. Schönberg and Boublil have captured the breadth and richness of Victor Hugo’s incredible novel without losing any of the psychological complexity of its multi-lead format. And it is Hugo’s call for compassion that you will take away – something we all need a little bit more of these days. “Do You Hear the People Sing?” the rebels ask, well they’ve been singing for 34-years and it’s time we listened.

Les Misérables: The Staged Concert is at the Gielgud Theatre until 30th November with tickets from £32.50. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook: Cultural Capital Theatre Blog   


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