A passion filled, powerhouse production not to be Les missed!

Reviewed by Georgia Kate Heard, What’s Up Christchurch

Showbiz Christchurch has taken on their biggest challenge yet, bringing the epic Les Miserables to the Isaac Theatre Royal. Their bold move has paid off, according to self-proclaimed Les Miserables fan Georgia Kate Heard, who felt our local talent brought a Broadway standard performance to a Christchurch stage. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to “hear the people sing”!

Les Miserables is a musical that needs no introduction.

This couldn’t have been more evident than when the curtain lifted on The Isaac Theatre Royal stage revealing the iconic image of a man passionately waving the red flag of revolution, bathed in the colours of the French flag. That single image of a man, accompanied by the rousing, full bodied sound of a live orchestra, was a promise to the audience. A promise that the Les Miserables we know and love is going to be honoured, celebrated and given the professional treatment, that a musical of this magnitude deserves.

This stirring opening tableau was so instantly recognisable it felt like rushing to embrace a long lost and dearly loved relative. This iconic stage picture was enough to elicit spontaneous, excited audience cheers, before the show had really begun!

I have never experienced such tangible audience anticipation in a New Zealand theatre-going experience. In my time seeing musical theatre on Broadway, I regularly encountered impassioned American punters applauding as the curtain lifted on a popular musical. The Broadway crowd were often hooting and hollering for the celebrity that they were eagerly awaiting. As this more reserved Christchurch audience began cheering, it struck me that we too were eagerly anticipating a celebrity, the celebrity being the musical giant that is Les Miserables!

I will openly proclaim that Les Miserables is my favourite musical of all time. Therefore my expectations and demands on what I needed from this production were sky high. To my relief and astonishment Showbiz Christchurch more than delivered on their promise; they exceeded my highest expectations!

Showbiz Christchurch are going from strength to strength. Showbiz has become synonymous with world class musical theatre, right here in Christchurch. This epic tale of a Parisian revolutionary, reborn in musical form to become one of London’s longest running and most popular shows has been translated into 21 languages and toured 42 countries, and now the talented thespians and singers of Otautahi have transported the magic and passion to the Isaac Theatre Royal. The Showbiz team proved once and for all they are producing shows of an international standard.

Showbiz Christchurch’s Les Miserables is simply superb. The dynamic duo of Director Stephen Robertson and musical director Richard Marrett are as iconic in staging musical theatre as the popular musicals themselves. Robertson has directed Les Miserables three times for Showbiz Christchurch and this feels like the finely tuned, assured accomplishment of a man who lives and breathes musical theatre. The sound that Marrett achieves with both the orchestra and the performers is second to none. The orchestra sound like a perfectly choreographed dance, that is a show within itself. The sound achieved on stage, in particular the male chorus, is breathtaking. The powerful and passionate, sound of the male ensemble on more than one occasion literally made my bottom jaw drop, and there is no greater compliment from me.

In such a slick, polished production, where every element hit the right note, its incredibly hard to single out individual performances and accomplishments. But for me there were some standouts who cannot go unmentioned.

Ben Freeth initially felt like unusual casting for the role of Thenadier, the crooked and devilish inn keeper, or master of the house. However Ben completely won myself and the audience over, with his corrupt, contorted characterisation. I couldn’t take my eyes off his full body commitment to this character, where every fibre in Ben’s body, right down to his fingers were fizzing with the twisted energy of this watchable villain.

Kira Josephson’s moving portrayal of the smaller, but deeply memorable role of the devoted mother Fantine, is stunning. Kira’s performance of “I dreamed a Dream” completely embodied the overwhelming theme of suffering and sacrifice. If you didn’t feel something while watching her pour her heart into that part, I suggest you might be emotionally moribund!

Daniel Belle as the protagonist Valjean largely carries the weight of the show’s success on his back. Daniel is a gift to Christchurch audiences and his portrayal of this iconic character is not to be missed. What Daniel achieves with this hugely vocally demanding roll, is nothing short of a tour de force of singing! During Daniel’s delicate falsetto notes in the haunting melodies of “Bring Him Home”, you could have heard a pin drop.

Marius the romantic male lead, played by Fergus Inder was everything you crave from this role; tender, dreamy, every note nailed, emotionally rich and handsome to boot.

Jack Fraser as Enjolras packed a hugely powerful punch. Jack’s impeccable diction and clear vibrant tone cut through the smoke-haze filled air like vocal bullets.

James Foster (Javert) received a huge applause after every song, and deservedly so. His rich and centred tones were a steady, regimental metronome for the show. He played the role with sincerity and layers of depth that are often missed in this part.

I never like to single out favourites, but nine year old Duncan Price, all but stole the spotlight in his scenes, playing the cheeky, endearing Gavroche! I can guarantee that on this opening night, a star was born! Jack tread the boards of that stage with the confidence, courage and conviction of an experienced man, well beyond his years. I was completely blown away by Jack’s natural acting ability and comic timing. This young man is one to watch!

Allan Lees Oam’s set is a wonder to behold, and Grant Robertson’s atmospheric lighting, compliments it perfectly.

Les Miserables is a timeless tale, with classic themes of redemption, greed, betrayal, camaraderie, enduring love, and sacrifice. There is something for everyone in this show. It has no musical theatre fluff; all the fat has been trimmed and all that’s left is a piece of prime theatre to experience.

The opening night received a full standing ovation, with many, including myself and even the discerning elderly gentlemen in front of me, wiping away tears from their eyes.

“To love another person is to see the face of god”. I can’t think of a more relevant message, in any time, than love and acceptance of our fellow man. This show is a hugely impactful glimpse into the human experience and a glorious production that deserves no empty chairs!