Monday, 8 June 2015

Les Miserables Broadway

Where? : Imperial Theatre, New York 
When?  : Saturday 30th May 8pm

How could I not visit Les Miserables during my New York trip? As well as being a lifelong favourite (alongside Phantom), I'd heard on the grapevine that Broadway's version is quite different and I couldn't ignore that, I had to see this reimagining for myself.

I was particularly excited to see how they handled Javert's suicide considering that is the most infuriating part of the London version - the mood-killing, ever-hilarious, post-death rotate and roll offstage. Yes, I can see you rolling off stage up there - how am I suppose to connect to my emotional response to that characters demise when I can see the actor rolling offstage? In the Broadway version, this isn't an issue thanks to the fact there is no revolve. Instead, they use a mixture of flies and projection to give the illusion of Javert falling to the water below the bridge; a much more dramatic, impactful image to end on. 

However, I'm not condemning the revolve entirely; without it, the students death scene upon the barricade had much less impact. The visual impression of that revolving barricade cluttered with lifeless bodies holds more emotional weight than the static barricade.

The barricade generally wasn't a feature like it is in London, being used only in the one scene it was needed. I can't decide yet whether this is for the better or worse - I think, perhaps, neither better nor worse, just different. 

London's sets are subtler, relying on imagination and implication, Broadway hands the scenes to you more literally - there are frequent, detailed scene changes. I loved the scenery for "Look Down" - a facade of apartment blocks complete with windows and balconies where the ensemble sing from.

I found it quite a treat to watch former West End Phantoms Ramin Karimloo and Earl Carpenter perform together as Jean Valjean and Javert respectively. I thought their energies gelled well together but felt neither connected as well to their characters as they had to the phantom. 

The standout performance for me was Gavin Lee as Thenardier. I was completely captivated by him when he was onstage and he seemed to tap into an element of the character I hadn't felt from any previous incarnations - he merged the humour with the darkness and immorality to exactly the right degree. 
I also thought Brennyn Lark did a great job with one of my favourite characters, Eponine, she seemed to really understand the situation and emotions of the character, her reactions always spot on. I was surprised to see this is her Broadway debut, I think she'll do well. 

So, which do I prefer - Les Miz Broadway or Les Miz London? That's the interesting question here, ultimately, isn't it? It's something I've been pondering but I've come to the conclusion that perhaps it's best not to compare and just take them as they are - different interpretations of the same show. There are some things that are more effective in Broadway and some that are more effective in West End, but would I want a mix and match for the "perfect" performance?.... No. Les Miz London could benefit from a little freshening up, but, in the end, I think the two incarnations work best as individual and unique tellings of the same well-loved story. 

For more information or to book tickets for either region, please visit the official website 


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