REVIEW: Les Misérables

Les Misérables
Produced by New Plymouth Operatic Society
Directed by Warren Bates
July 26 to August 18, 2018
Reviewed by Taryn Utiger

The time is now, the day is here – the curtain has risen on Les Misérables.

New Plymouth Operatic Society has brought this legendary show to life with a carefully balanced mix of spectacle and poignant raw emotion.

The masterly touch of director Warren Bates is evident. Under his guidance the cast and crew deliver almost everything one expects from the musical behemoth that is Les Misérables.

There’s tragedy, injustice, dramatic battle scenes, perfectly timed comic relief and, of course, many, many breathtaking musical numbers.

While each and every actor was superb on opening night, a few special mentions are needed.

Tem Hodson almost stole the show as Javert, with his commanding presence and emotionally-charged songs. Fernando Tarango’s tender moments as Jean Valjean were charming, while Mark Leuthard and Tracey Blake’s randy and rambunctious Thenardiers brought the house down.

They were joined on stage by some of Taranaki’s finest talent, and rest assured, the entire cast far exceeded the standard of ‘better than Russell Crowe’.

The real treasure of this mega musical is the incredible ensemble work. The attention to detail and the vivaciousness within the massive group numbers is just superb, and it really makes this show sing. Those group numbers showcase the best of what New Plymouth Operatic Society can achieve.

The hero is of course the music. Orchestral director Adam Jasinski and vocal director Philippa Drinkwater have mastered hit after Broadway hit. The show is filled with excellent renditions of some of musical theatre’s greatest tunes, including I Dreamed a Dream, On My Own and Do You Hear The People Sing?

Les Misérables was staged by the society in 1994, and again in 2002, and it’s easy to see why it broke box office records both times. For those of us who remember the previous two productions, the 2018 show manages to have a few surprises.

Among them is an innovative use of stage lighting. As well as your usual smoke-filled spotlights, there’s emotive fiery torches, a memorable use of candles, and a sewer that spills light and steam onto the stage.

This lighting, the impressive barricade and the revolving stage all come together to create a tableau so gripping you could almost hear a pin drop in the theatre.

Unfortunately, on opening night this production was not without fault. There was an off note or two, some jarring voice overs, and for me it just didn’t feel as powerful as other times I’ve seen or heard Les Misérables.

It’s difficult to say why. Perhaps it was because I was smaller when I last saw it live, or perhaps it was because using digital scenery removed some of the grand set that helps to create the full experience.

In saying that, my gripes were not shared by all, and in fact many were heaping praise on all aspects of the production.

One teary-eyed Les Misérables virgin summed it up nicely when he said, “that is world class entertainment. You could go anywhere in the world and you wouldn’t find anything better.”