With my love of musical theatre, a question I regularly hear from my parents and other family members is ‘why do you go see that show so much?’ My response to this question is always overwhelmingly positive, and I can go on and on about how much I love the story, music and the lyrics. Of course, certain shows are also special to me as they have introduced me to a wonderful array of talented ladies and gentlemen who I now consider it my privilege to have seen, (and when it comes to certain people 😉 ) continue to see regularly on stage. As a result of my admiration for particular performers and shows, I’ve got to meet and share loads of wonderful memories and experiences with a whole bunch of great people, some of whom I know count among my closest friends- you guys know who you are 😉
The show I have seen most is Les Miserables, last month marked my 10th visit. Apart from the reasons outlined above, one of the things I love about this show is the fact that every performance is different, and its in the subtle ways that I find this is most effective. You might hear a slight change in the emphasis that an actor gives to a certain lyric or phrase, a character might change their body language and reactions just enough to mix it up from last time you saw this scene being played that affects can completely change the way you feel about the scene and how it can move you emotionally and so on. Unfortunately, an unsettling thought came to me almost from the outset of my most recent visit, namely: ‘is it ever possible to fall out of love with one’s favourite show?’ For reasons I’ll go into now, I fear that this has happened. My association with the infamous show began on August 27th, 2011 and in that time up till now I have seen seven Valjeans: Chris Jacobsen, Alfie Boe, Ramin Karimloo, David Shannon, Gerónimo Rauch, Chris Holland, and his latest incarnation, Daniel Koek. The debate over who is your favourite Valjean is one that comes up regularly in conversations between me and my theatre loving pals, and I’m going to stick my neck out and express an opinion that will probably be VERY unpopular with a certain number of them, but what is it the Ramones say? Hey ho, lets go: While I cannot fault his singing and many people hold him dear in their hearts thanks to the 25th Anniversary concert, (as do I, as it is what first brought him properly to my attention), for me *deep breath* Alfie Boe ISN’T the best version of Valjean. Of course, that part needs immense vocal power to pull off, but for me personally what’s equally, if not more important is the acting side and the emotional journey Valjean goes on throughout the show, and this is what unites Ramin, Gerónimo & alternate Valjean Chris Holland as my favourite incarnations of 24601. They just had such an incredible affinity with the character and bought out their own unique nuances that captured my heart from beginning to end. I was privileged enough to see Ramin in the role twice, Gerónimo three times and while I have only as yet seen Chris once, I so hope to build on that number! That’s not to say the others I have seen aren’t talented, I just found myself unable to connect with them to the same extent I did with the latter three, which was the issue I had in abundance with Dan’s portrayal. I knew nothing of him prior to seeing him here, so didn’t know what to expect in terms of his vocals and performance. The main thing that struck me about Dan was that he had flashes of brilliance vocally that made me think: ‘That there. That’s Valjean’ and is no doubt a very strong singer as the casting giants saw fit to give him the role in the first place, I just found his singing quite inconsistent and in terms of his acting he got a little ‘over the top’ and bordered on shouting in unnecessary moments for my taste. I knew there was something not quite right because I wasn’t whooping and cheering when he tore up his ticket of leave as I normally would, and even, horror or horrors at least in my experience of the show, I didn’t cry or get the least bit choked up when he died.
I added a new Fantine, Cosette and Marius to my list (these stand at 5 portrayals of Fantine, and 4 for both the latter). Na – Young Jeon was my latest Fantine and like Dan, I thought she had moments of brilliance vocally, but I wasn’t really blown away by her take on the character. This may have had more to do with the fact I generally find Fantine a rather dull character, so whoever plays her needs to do something special to capture my interest- I missed that fight and spirit that I have found in other Fantines I’ve seen. Rob Houchen and Jade Davies (on for Samantha Dorsey) worked well together and I did enjoy seeing a completely new pairing for Marius and Cosette rather than one or the other changing!
Carrie Hope Fletcher was probably my favourite addition to the new cast, she was strong vocally; I liked her ‘On My Own’ very much. She gave the more determined side of Eponiné greater prominence which is something I like to see,and over time I think she’ll settle into the role more and develop it into a great all round performance.
Anton Zetterholm is the new Enjolras and as with Dan I’m afraid he just did nothing for me. I felt he lacked the tenacity and commanding presence I like to see in an Enjolras and I wasn’t wowed by his vocals except for his final line.
Of course, it was wonderful to see some familiar faces: Tam Mutu continues to blow me away as Javert, and I got to see my favourite Thénardier Adam Linstead with Nicky Swift as his Madame (her 2nd time in the role during my visits) and she has improved leaps and bounds; their chemistry is faultless and so funny. Having said that, I felt this new cast overall lacked energy and felt fragmented as a company and I left feeling thoroughly deflated, which has never happened in my two years of visits. I know they only began in June, and will surely improve, given the fact I couldn’t warm to Dan & the cast generally, I’m unsure if I want to go back. I wonder if that’s a sign I’ve definitely had too much of a good thing?