The opening night of Showbiz Christchurch’s current production, Les Misérables, as per their usual practice was a treat for the senses. Stunning scenery combined with gorgeous costumes and excellent hair and make-up within the beautiful surrounds of the Isaac Theatre Royal. The singing and live orchestral accompaniment really makes you feel immersed in the story in a way that watching a movie just can’t rival. There is magic when you attend a live musical theatre performance, it heightens the enjoyment when you know that you are experiencing an incredibly well rehearsed but ultimately unique performance.
If like me you haven’t seen Les Misérables before you may have arrived at the incorrect conclusion that it was largely a tragedy. It is not. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of drama, injustice, and sadness in this scathing commentary on 18th century French society. However there are also plenty of hilarious pratfalls, raunchy gags, and utterly amusing scenes in the show. For those of you that have seen Les Misérables go see it again. This complex tale of love, redemption, sacrifice, and heroism has so much depth that there will always be new layers to unwrap. Les Misérables is a 38 year old musical, based on the 1862 Victor Hugo book of the same name, and among other social injustice issues it perfectly captures the themes of the contemporary #metoo movement. The perfectly performed song “At the End of the Day” is the best example of this. An ensemble piece which explores general aspects of poverty, but then zeros in on women in the workplace. It talks of women in subordinate roles, who can’t afford to lose their jobs, and are at the mercy of a male superior who can fire them without a second thought if his lecherous advances are refused. Sound familiar?
Onto comedic relief, which is largely provided by the two very talented performers playing despicable but somehow likeable inn-keeper Monsieur Thénardier (Ben Freeth) and his wife Madame Thénardier (Rebecca Malcolm). Blackmailing, rotten souled, scoundrels through and through they mistreat and swindle all they come in contact with, but are still relatable. The brilliant acting of the pair, but especially by Ben Freeth, kept the audience riveted on their every devious and usually suggestive or inappropriate move.
Acts of heroism, redemption, and sacrifice are also abundant, even in the face of overwhelming misery. This is a story about doing the right thing, even when you don’t have to, even when it would be easy to find justification for doing otherwise. Several times we witness on stage the characters choosing to sacrifice their comfort and personal feelings. The Ten Tenors performer Daniel Belle is a powerhouse as he plays Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who ultimately devotes his life to making good. Solo mother Fantine, is hauntingly played by Kira Josephson (she was Elphaba’s wheelchair bound sister in Showbiz’s production of Wicked earlier this year) gave literally everything she had to give her young daughter Cosette a good life. You’d have to have a pretty hard heart not to feel her pain, as she is thrown in the path of the comically made-up ladies of the night, during the sarcastically sung “Lovely Ladies”.
Javert, the apparent villain of the show, is played by James Foster and he delivers a solid performance. This is a character with obviously conflicting emotions who believes himself in the right by virtue of his role as enforcer of the law. It is hard to condemn him for doing what he truly believes to be the right thing, even if his actions feel wrong to modern ideals. One of the things I most enjoyed about the show was how nuanced the story is, there is no definite answer of what is right or wrong. It makes for some seriously suspenseful scenes!
The opening night child performers (they alternate through the season) in the roles of Eponine, Gavroche, and Cosette were each spot on in their own way. The challenging solo of “Castle on A Cloud” was performed by Isla Palmer as Cosette and gave me goosebumps. Her voice was positively angelic. An optimistic sounding song, heartbreaking in the context of her miserable situation, this young lady performed with a perfect wistfulness. Gavroche actor Duncan Price on the other hand delivered a comic performance worthy of an actor three times his age. These young actors have a great future in the theatre ahead of them.
There were numerous other outstanding performers incl Eddie Redmayne look-alike Fergus Inder playing young idealistic Marius. Adult Cosette is excellently played by Jacqueline Doherty, and it is a joy to see adult Eponine so sympathetically played by Monique Clementson. Jack Fraser as Enjolras as he once again acts the revolutionary (he was Che in last year’s Showbiz production of Evita).
Aside from excellent singing, dancing, and acting the spectacle was completed by a massive portion of the stage rotating at perfectly timed intervals, adding an extra layer of urgency and perspective to many of the scenes. The set design is incredibly realistic and elaborate, a highlight for me was the barricade made of chairs, tables, doors etc that all perfectly fit together to look like the unstable jumble of a real improvised urban barricade but was instead a carefully crafted set strong enough to hold a troop of performers as they clambered all over it.
The orchestra may have been hidden in the pit, largely invisible to the eye, but it sure made its presence felt. Knowing that the singers are being accompanied live by musicians of the highest quality makes you feel rather proud of our city that we can summon up such talented individuals night after night. The depth of sound that they achieve is really immersive too and adds to the feeling of being directly involved in the story unfolding on stage.
It is plain to see that the work of so many people has not been wasted on this epic musical. Everyone involved with Showbiz Christchurch, at all levels, has clearly put their utmost dedication into this production of Les Misérables and it really has paid off. I suspect that most of Christchurch will want to see this show before it finishes in early October. This is definitely a FOMO-worthy event so buy yourself some tickets now, because this show is three hours (incl intermission) of action packed adventure-drama-comedy you won’t want to miss.
All photos by Danielle Colvin Photography
We know you have been wanting to know so here it is… the performance schedule for the actors playing young Cosette, Eponine and Gavroche in the 2018 Showbiz Christchurch Saunders & Co Season of Les Misèrables
Please note: Showbiz Christchurch reserves the right to amend this performance schedule should circumstances dictate a change.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed my great pleasure to welcome you to the show of tonight, Les Misérables
Victor Hugo’s literary masterpiece was set against the backdrop of the June Revolution of 1832 (not the big one of the 1790s where everyone got their heads chopped off). Although there is no direct translation of the title, it is generally translated as “The Wretched” and focussed on the impoverished in Paris at the time. It turned Hugo into a national hero and his funeral in 1885 resembled that of Eva Peron.
In 1980, the book was turned into a musical which swept France in typical Gallic revolutionary spirit, only to be pilfered by the English (much like Calais) into undoubtedly one of the greatest musicals of all time. Certainly, it is in my personal top five.
This is now the third time that we have stage Les Mis. The first in 1994 was quite a watershed moment for us, as it was the first to be produced under a national Consortium model which has been so successful since. We put 33,000 people through the ITR, which is, so far as we can determine, the third largest season in the theatre’s history. And judging by the public response to this production, Les Mis remains as fresh and vital as the first time around.
The on-going support of our numerous industry partners and business sponsors is vital and hugely appreciated, in particular our major funders the Christchurch City Council, the Rata Foundation, Mainland Foundation, Lion Foundation, Christchurch Music Theatre Education Trust and, in particular, our first annual sponsor, Saunders and Co.
Most importantly, we would like to acknowledge the ongoing support from you, the theatre lovers of Christchurch – our lifeblood.
Please enjoy the show.
The 2018 Showbiz season comes to an epic conclusion in September with Les Misérables – the third staging of this popular musical in the organisation’s 80 year history, and also the third to be directed by leading NZ musical director Stephen Robertson.
As part of the inaugural NZ Theatre Month this September – a nationwide festival celebrating New Zealand theatre and the people involved in making it – Showbiz Christchurch is delighted to present their first Audio Described Performance and Touch Tour of Les Misérables. This is a ticketed event for a limited number of visually impaired patrons and their companions during a public performance.
Winner of over 100 international awards and seen by over 65 million people worldwide, Les Mis’ popularity is undisputed but Showbiz wasn’t sure if it would also be a good candidate for an audio described performance.
“We consulted extensively with the Blind Foundation to make sure ‘Les Mis’ would work for their clients,” says Showbiz’s Marketing Manager, Wendy Riley. “Foundation Recreation and Volunteer Coordinator Petronella Spicer is an avid theatregoer so we asked her to review the show and give us her opinion. Once we got the greenlight from her we felt confident in moving forward with the performance.”
NZ Opera have previously audio described their productions of Madam Butterfly and Tosca at the Isaac Theatre Royal. Showbiz Christchurch’s production of Les Misérables is believe to be the first musical to be audio described in the South Island.
Showbiz has engaged the services of a professional audio describer Rachel Sears who has been instrumental in championing accessible theatre. Sears will spend around a week watching rehearsals and preparing for the audio described performance on Sunday 23 September. She will describe the visual aspects of the show live to audience members fitted with headsets that enable them to also hear the live performance. The audio describing equipment is provided by Christchurch company BounceNZ who are industry leaders in theatre sound operation.
Theatregoers who attend the audio described performance will also be able to take a backstage ‘Touch Tour’ prior to the show, so they can understand the makeup of the set, props, costumes and the physical nature of the actors before they attend the performance.
Showbiz also has plans to open up the doors backstage on Saturday 22 September so members of the general public can gain rare access and insight into what it takes to stage a large Broadway-style musical. Tour numbers are limited and tickets will cost $10, proceeds from which will go towards offsetting some of the costs of providing the Audio Described Performance and Touch Tour.
The Isaac Theatre Royal will also open the foyer from 11am to 4pm to view dynamic displays that chart the history of the theatre and some of the stage productions, and catch a glimpse of Les Misérables set from the auditorium.
“These initiatives are part of the journey to make Showbiz Christchurch productions more accessible to a wider audience” says General Manager Michael Bayly.
Audio Described Performance and Touch Tour of Les Misérables:
- 4pm, 23 September 2018
- Information and tickets phone Showbiz Christchurch (03) 377 7954.
Les Misérables Public Backstage Tour:
- 22 September 2018. Tour times: 10:30am, 11:00am, 11:30am, 12 noon and 12:30pm.
Each tour takes 45 minutes.
- The Isaac Theatre Royal foyer will also be open from 11am – 4pm.
- Opens 14 September 2018
Isaac Theatre Royal
Great drama never gets old
The 2018 Showbiz season comes to an epic conclusion in September with Les Misérables. Winner of over 100 international awards and seen by over 65 million people worldwide, Les Misérables is a grand and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit. This modern classic is based on Victor Hugo’s novel and features one of the most memorable scores of all time proving that great drama never gets old.
Directed by Stephen Robertson, with musical direction by Richard Marrett, this is a new production of Alan Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Les Misérables. It will feature the set from the 2001 Showbiz production – including the famous revolve – all of which has undergone major refurbishment.
This will be Robertson’s third time directing a Showbiz production of ‘Les Mis’, and each time he manages to breathe new life, and reach new heights, with the show he has come to love and know so well.
“Les Mis is big and majestic and directed like musket shot to your heart” said Christchurch Star reviewer Barry Grant of the 2001 production. The 1994 production was no less spectacular and holds the record as the largest musical ever staged by Showbiz, with the season of 33,500 seats sold out before opening night. It is the third longest running musical performed in the history of the Isaac Theatre Royal behind the J.C. Williamson production of My Fair Lady in 1962 and the 1975 production of Jesus Christ Superstar starring Jon English.
In this new production Sydney born tenor Daniel Belle will be performing the principal role of Jean Valjean, the man at the heart of the story.
In nineteenth century France, Valjean is released from 19 years of unjust imprisonment and finds nothing in store for him but mistrust and mistreatment. He breaks his parole in the hope of starting a new life, initiating a lifelong struggle for redemption relentlessly pursued by police inspector Javert.
Belle has performed the role ‘hundreds of times’ in the Australian National production of Les Misérables, and in the Asian tour performing in Manila, Singapore and Dubai.
In June he performed at the Isaac Theatre Royal as part of the internationally acclaimed vocal group The Ten Tenors, which he joined in 2012 after completing studies at The Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the Australian Institute of Music. Performing in the Ten Tenors Double Platinum tour, Daniel has sung throughout Australia, Europe and The United States to critical acclaim.
Performing alongside Belle are seasoned Showbiz performers: James Foster (Javert), Kira Josephson (Fantine), Fergus Inder (Marius), Jacqueline Doherty (Cosette), Jack Fraser (Enjolras), Ben Freeth (Monsieur Thénardier) and Monique Clementson (Eponine). Making her Showbiz debut is Nelson performer Rebecca Malcolm in the role of Madame Thénardier.
98 children auditioned for the roles of young Cosette, young Eponine and Gavroche who will be played by five alternating performers.
Eight year old Duncan Price and 11 year old Ethan Carranceja (Southern Ballet) will perform in the role of Gavroche. Nine year old Lavinia Sutherland and eight year old Isla Palmer (Anna Lee School of Dance) will alternate the role of young Cosette. All are new Showbiz performers with previous performance training and/or experience. The role of young Eponine is currently still being cast.
The ensemble consists of: Mitchell Anderson, Samuel Baird, Katie Beer, Liam Braithwaite, William Burns, Sam Burt, Philippa Chilvers, Roz Ellis, Paul Fidow, Jack Hanrahan, Catherine Hay, Simon Heeringa, Anna Henderson, Bryony Jamison, Andrea Koorey, Jack Marshall, Tara Martin, Laurel Rose, James Shera, Claire Steel, Chris Symon, Lorraine Turner, Chris Walker, Matilda Wickbom & Elliot Wood.
The Saunders & Co Season
Showbiz Christchurch production of
Opens 14 September 2018
Isaac Theatre Royal
A musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg
Based on a novel by Victor Hugo
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel
Additional material by James Fenton
Adapted and originally directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird
Orchestrations by John Cameron
Original London Production by Cameron Mackintosh and The Royal Shakespeare Company
Licensed exclusively by Music Theatre International (Australasia) and Cameron Mackintosh Ltd.
All performance materials supplied by Hal Leonard Australia.
Tickets available online through Ticketek or by phoning: 0800 842 538