Geeky ramblings on Les Miserables

Les Miserables is my favourite musical. I first saw it in Manchester in 1999 but didn’t quite get it until 2nd time round in London. There’s so many different plots going on plus the confusion between Fantine, Cosette and Eponine had me baffled. Still nothing could get in the way of the songs which make me feel like my chest is about to tear apart through the pain.

This year it celebrates its 25th anniversary since its debut performance at the Barbican in London in 1985 and celebrates by the touring cast returning to that theatre for 3 weeks. The big day of celebration comes on October 2 when it’s possible to see 3 productions of the show all in the same day – 10am at Barbican, 2pm at Queens and then 7pm at the O2. My kind of mental.

Last night I went to see the touring production at the Barbican which featured Gareth Gates demonstrating some exceptionally odd, flat hair in his role as Marius but unexpectedly some really great acting. Unfortunately there was no encore featuring a mash-up of Anyone of Us and Sunshine.

Tickets are in no way cheap at ¬£65 but this production almost felt like the definitive one. It’s a much re-worked, totally new production which features lush orchestration and, much to the horror of traditionals, no revolving stage. Instead the sets were wonderfully accompanied by a projected backdrop that at points made you feel like you were in an episode of Knightmare (this is a good thing). In particular I love the use of the projector during Do You Hear The People Sing, the sewer scenes and the fascinating, baffling way they used it in Javert’s suicide.

When it comes to music, the West End always sounds like it’s a couple of casio keyboards that are being played off a tape. Here we had a real life orchestra making the songs sound even fuller and effective than normal. ‘Stars’ was given a whole new lease of life with the audience jumping to their feet and the delicate ‘Bring Him Home’ was even more effective. Although ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ was a bit pitchy, the mighty ‘On My Own’ was filled with more oomph and anger than normal as Rosalind James’ poured her guts into a faster rendition of the showstopped. My favourite song from the show is ‘A Heart Full of Love’ and Katie Hall and Gareth Gates played it perfectly with a mixture of shyness and excitement. Still, it’s Eponine that makes me sob like a sad panda.

Les Miserables at The Barbican until 2 October. If I ever spot a man wearing the t-shirt to the left I am immediately proposing.

Review: The New Yorkers, Lilian Bayliss Theatre, Sadlers Wells

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Musicals come and go. The lucky ones get turned into films and are immortalised. Everyone’s heard of Oklahoma!, Anything Goes and Guys and Dolls. But what about Allegro, Nymph Errant or Greenwillow? No, us neither.

Since 1989 Ian Marshall Fisher has been a one-man musical preservation industry, every year dredging up unfairly forgotten shows by the great writers of the early 20th century and labelling them the Lost Musicals. His latest project at Sadler’s Wells (Sundays until April 26) is Cole Porter and Herbert Fields’ 1930 society satire The New Yorkers. What hits you first is the minimalist approach. Smartly decked out in evening dress, the company files onto a brightly-lit stage – empty apart from a row of chairs. Each clutches a black folder containing the script. There are no props and only piano accompaniment. It’s almost like watching an early BBC radio drama recording. But the performances themselves are boisterous, especially from the remarkable Michael Roberts in a role originally taken by Jimmy Durante.

There’s a negligible plot: wealthy young New York socialite falls for shady nightclub owner and ends up organising a jailbreak when he is busted. This being the Prohibition, there are plenty of jokes about alcohol and the lengths people will go to for it, including an entire song, ‘Say It With Gin’. The links between the revue-style numbers and story are sometimes tenuous, but sometimes that helps: after one particularly rowdy comedy routine, Corrie Mac steps forward and sings ‘Love for Sale’, Porter’s great, sad song about a prostitute. The effect is devastating.

What’s most surprising though is how funny the show still is. Yes, some of the contemporary references are missed, but the acidic swipes at the uber-rich, the justice system, and above all lovely ‘liquor’, still have the power to raise a laugh. If something as classy as The New Yorkers can be lost, what other musical marvels might still await rediscovery?

The New Yorkers plays each Sunday at 4pm until April 26. Full details here. If you only see one show this month, this should be it.