Sunday, 10 October 2010

Les Miserables Aux Folles

Les Miserables Aux Folles

As I write, it’s almost a week since I tried to get to the French revolution during a tube strike. OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, I was of course attending the 25th Anniversary concert of “Les Miserables” at Greenwich’s O2, but yes a tube strike was beginning that night, so my mind was possibly more occupied on how one earth I would get home rather than the joys of the “Worlds Favourite Musical” tm.

I have to admit “Les Miserables” may be the worlds favourite musical but it probably wouldn’t even make my own personal top thirty. Despite it possessing a fair few good songs in the score, it lacks the qualities that, I think, make for a great musical. Far too many characters die for me to engage with them emotionally, although I may be in the minority here as dozens of audience members sob through the whole piece relentlessly.

However, that aside, the celebratory concert at the O2 was a wonderful occasion. I think possibly “Les Miserables” is at it’s best in this format, away from the ongoing dreariness of the regular stage production. It was beautifully cast with stars from the world of Opera, the West End, Broadway and a small sprinkling of Jonas brother. There were a few occupants of my box who were rather scathing when it came to Nick Jonas, but I found him to be a perfectly respectable light tenor, and was probably a far better Marius than I have ever seen in the four times I attended the West End production (Why oh why????) Unfortunately he was cast alongside a triumvirate of truly exceptional male voices that couldn’t fail to put him in their shadows. Firstly, “Love Never Dies’” star Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras who thrilled with “Do You hear The People Sing”, and also Broadway’s Norm Lewis as Javert. However the real sensation was opera’s Alfie Boe. His rendition of “Bring Him Home” was truly beautiful. I would wager that it has never sounded better. Amongst the other cast members Lea Salonga showed Susan Boyle where she goes wrong with “I Dreamed A Dream” and Samantha Barks was stunning as Eponine and has really grown as a performer since her TV stint on “I’d Do Anything”. Last but not least Matt Lucas’s comic turn as Thenardier showed what an asset he would be to musical theatre should he decide to follow that path.

It was thrilling to hear the score performed with full orchestra and a massive chorus which made it quite spine tingling at times. However the most moving moments came towards the concerts close when the original cast from back in 1985 took to the stage. We heard “Bring Him Home” again as Mr Boe and the original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson were joined by the current West End and touring Valjeans in a beautiful harmony. All that remained was for the original cast to lead the entire company in a rousing reprise of “One Day More” to the whoops and whistles of all in the O2.

Definitely an evening to remember and one that is to be released on DVD shortly.

Also this week, I received my new small shiny disc of the Broadway revival cast recording of Jerry Herman’s “La Cage Aux Folles”. Now “la Cage” is definitely in my top twenty musicals, as I have a particular fondness for it that dates back to 1986 when I worked front of house on the London Palladium production. The recent London revival (on which this incarnation was based) was a pale shadow of the original for me. However it did reveal that it has a particularly strong book and score which cannot really be messed up. As much as the original orchestrations and George Hearn’s definitive Zaza will always be hard to better, the new recording still has much to enjoy. Whilst lacking Hearn’s vocal abilities, Douglas Hodge imbues Zaza with much warmth and emotion and still manages to dazzle with “Mascara” and the iconic “I Am What I Am”. Ably supported by Frasier Crane himself, Kelsey Grammer (who betters Broadways original – Gene Barry) they lead a competent company in this new recording. Whilst I feel “The Best Of Times” and “Cocktail Counterpoint” are disappointing on the album, most of the new orchestrations and vocal arrangements work brilliantly. Where this new recording really scores however, is with the afore mentioned leads. You really do get a sense that these are two men in love and you cannot fail to be moved by “Look Over There” as Grammer sings of the love that Zaza feels for their son. Truly touching. Also the “naughtiness” of les notorious Cagelles shines through. Whilst it will never replace the original 1983 Broadway recording in my affections it’s a worthy addition to my collection.
Available on PS Classics.

So my week has seen my journey from the French revolution to the French Riviera, acts of war to acts of….well drag……, Alfie Boe to a feather boa, who knows what the next week will hold!!!!!!!!!