Review: Les Misérables (Mirvish)

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Mirvish presents the new definitive production of the international hit musical Les Misérables in Toronto

Les Misérables is a bonafide phenomenon of the stage. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo; a story of one man’s journey to redemption set against the backdrop of class-struggle and political unrest in post-Napoleonic France, Les Mis is hugely ambitious in scope and scale. It’s a grand, sweeping epic and an iconic mega-musical.

Les Mis originally opened in London’s West End in 1985 and has played there ever since making it one of the longest running musicals in history. The show has been so prolific that chances are, even if you haven’t seen it, you’d still be able to recognize some of its iconic songs like On My Own, I Dreamed a Dream, Do You Hear the People Sing, and Bring Him Home.

In the past 28 years, dozens of productions have appeared on stages around the world including a resoundingly popular Canadian production that Mirvish presented in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1989.

In 2009, producer Cameron Mackintosh commissioned a new version of Les Mis for the show’s 25th anniversary. He brought on director Laurence Connor to re-invent and re-imagine the show for a new tour. That 25th anniversary tour is the basis for this new Canadian production that Mirvish is currently presenting in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

Now, I guess you could say I’m a pretty hardcore fan of the show. I became very attached to the original production of Les Mis having seen it multiple times over the years in Canada, on the U.S. national tour, on Broadway and in London’s West End. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a purist (don’t even bring up the topic of that godawful movie version from last year in my presence).

I was skeptical and I wasn’t sure how I’d respond to this new version of the show, after all, why mess with a classic, right? I’m happy to say that I was totally blown away. The new Les Mis is as grand, sweeping, emotional and epic as the original but it also feels incredibly fresh and dynamic.

This new version is completely re-thought and re-designed. The iconic turntable stage from the original production is gone and it’s not missed; the new musical staging is actually more dynamic without it. The director also brings out a lot of great nuances in the story and several character moments in the show that either weren’t there or weren’t as strongly developed before.

The new production features projections based on some of Victor Hugo’s original paintings. I was wary of their use since projections are the technology du jour in theatrical production design and are rarely done well but I was pleasantly surprised. For the most part the projections are beautifully incorporated and used to extend and complete the visual palette of the scene without drawing unnecessary attention to themselves.

Oddly, the director also made the choice to cut the few projections featured in the original production; the ones that provided details of the time and place when the story skips ahead a few years or changes location. The tempo of the music is also sped up in this new version so the story moves along at breakneck pace especially in the initial prologue section and it can be hard to follow. A quick skim of the synopsis in the programme might be helpful for anybody not already familiar with the plot.

The strong direction and design are complemented by a stellar, largely Canadian, cast. The lead role of the reformed convict Jean Valjean is played by Ramin Karimloo who grew up in Richmond Hill and is something of a superstar in London’s West End. This engagement marks his debut on the Canadian stage. Karimloo undeniably brings something unique to the role; he imbues his Valjean with a rare passion and a burning intensity.

Canadian Idol winner Melissa O’Neil gives a surprisingly moving and fine-tuned performance as the tough but lovelorn street rat Eponine. In fact, she’s probably one of the best Eponines I’ve seen. Cliff Saunders and Lisa Horner deliver hilariously over-the-top comedic performances as the scoundrel inn-keepers the Thénardiers.

All-in-all, this new Toronto production is nothing short of spectacular. If you’re seeing the show for the first time this is as strong a production as you’ll find anywhere. If you’re a long-time fan of the show like me, this new version will allow you to re-discover the musical and see it with fresh eyes. It’s as epic and emotionally resonant as ever. As far as I’m concerned this production is the new definitive version of Les Mis.

Details:

  • Les Misérables is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King Street West) through December 22, 2013
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
  • Tickets $35.00 to $130.00
  • Tickets are available by phone at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333, in-person at the Princess of Wales Theatre box office or online at Mirvish.com

Photo of the Les Misérables Toronto cast 2013 by Matthew Murphy

2 thoughts on “Review: Les Misérables (Mirvish)”

  1. I have tickets for Nov 29 for Les Mis. Hearing about the “re-though/re-designed” version this is makes me ask….is the music the same? Are all the iconic songs still there?
    We’ve seen Les Mis twice….once with Colm Wilkinson and once when Michael Burgess was doing Valjean (unfortunately, it was one of the very few nights he wasn’t able to perform). We’re looking for the same depth of feeling the original music inspired in us.

    1. The bulk of the original score is in tact although there have been some redactions to the scenes between the major numbers and some songs like Castle on a Cloud and Fantine’s Death have been shortened. The tempo is also slightly sped up in an effort get the run time of the show under the 3 hour mark.

      None of the songs have been cut entirely and no new ones have been added and the iconic musical numbers remain and sound as grand, sweeping and epic as ever with their new arrangements. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in the music department.

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