Despite having seen both the original London production and the Hugh Jackman film, I must confess that Les Misérables is not my favourite show. Indeed, it might even vie for the title of my least favourite musical to date. So my congratulations to The Savoyards team for a very professional production, which held the rapt attention of a sold-out audience, and provided some memorable moments for this reviewer—including excellent casting with strong leading performances, solid duets, good diction, and great production design.

Set in revolutionary France, Les Misérables touches on themes of social injustice, hypocrisy, love and compassion. Valjean (Shannon Foley) and Fantine (Sarah Copley) each seek to create new identities in order to be able to work and to gain some semblance of respect—where their respective ‘crimes’ were the stealing of a loaf of bread and being abandoned with an illegitimate child. Fantine is forced into the prostitution that leads to her death, and Valjean then spends the remainder of his life as a ‘free’ man running from the determined Javert (Christopher Thomas) while bringing up Fantine’s child, Cosette, as his own.

 Performance image by Michelle Thomas (Savoyards)

Performance image by Michelle Thomas (Savoyards)

Contrasting the life of the powerful with that of the oppressed and impoverished, the tale includes the failed revolutionary student barricade, and by the end of the show many of the main characters are dead. But it’s not all gloom and doom: the tale includes comedic moments from the scheming inn-keeping duo (Warryn James and Julie Eisentrager) and concludes with the optimism of a new life together for Cosette (Belinda Burton) and Marius (Matthew Geaney) with the coming revolution indicated in the powerful ensemble reprise of Do You Hear The People Sing?  

The leading actors were well-cast, with particularly strong performances by Shannon Foley (Jean Valjean) and Christopher Thomas (Javert). Both roles are challenging, requiring actors with a wide vocal range and the ability to convey moments of realisation and transition. Fortunately, both Foley and Thomas were excellent. The leads were compelling together in The Confrontation, and the audience were enthralled with Thomas’s performance of Soliloquy (Javert's Suicide). But it was Foley who stole the show with his Bring Him Home, showing the full range of his powerful voice. A memorable moment.

Perhaps the most well-known songs from the show are two numbers by female leads—which can prove challenging for actors who are competing with well-loved and well-known recordings. However, we were in safe hands. Erika Naddei (Éponine) was perfect as the inn-keepers daughter, movingly conveying her unrequited love for Marius in On My Own. Sarah Copley’s Fantine was one of the most believable performances of the role that I have seen, culminating in a tender and beautifully-judged I Dreamed A Dream.

It was not only the individual numbers that were well-received. Duets were a definite hit in this show. Not only between Foley and Thomas, but also Fantine's Death: Come to Me (Foley and Copley), A Little Fall of Rain (Naddei and Geaney) and the crowd-pleasing ‘duet’ A Heart Full of Love (Burton, Geaney, Naddei). Equally there was some good ensemble work—including the students’ Red and Black, and the full cast/ensemble Do You Hear the People Sing? And when I say ‘full cast’, I mean full, as the Show had over 50 performers.

Fortunately, the production had a really great set (Raymond Milner) and excellent lighting design (Allan Nutley), allowing the director (Robbie Parkin) to use the stage to great effect. It is marvellous to see 40+ people on any stage, but it can bring its challenges. There were occasions when I’d have liked to see more fluid dancing or movement around the stage in the big set-pieces, but Master of the House certainly got the toes tapping and was rewarded with lots of laughter (great comic work from Eisentrager and James).  

The musical is particularly known for several popular songs, and also for the clever development of key character themes (music by Claude-Michel Schönberg). Geoffrey Secomb (Musical Director) did his best with the orchestra, and I certainly came away reflecting on the way in which the musical themes develop throughout the show. But there were several times when the horns could have been better, and many when pianissimo was called for, to ensure that the actors were not swamped.

The professional approach of The Savoyards team—from media through to program (Sharyn Hall and colleagues) and costume design (Kim Heslewood)—provides a great value opportunity to see some of the classics of musical theatre. It was good to see the work they put into developing new talent, with younger actors (including Giselle Roe, who gave a confident performance as Young Cosette in the 6 July performance), as well as bringing back established performers to the local stage. Long may it continue.

Verdict: Hats off to The Savoyards for bringing this ‘classic’ to the local stage. Can’t wait until September as Chicago is next (29 September – 13 October, 2018). Put 15th August in the diary now to be first in line to secure your tickets.

Audience tip: Arrive early, as there is plenty of parking and lots of space in the foyer for drinks before the show. And don’t forget to take some tissues—it’s a tear-jerker. 2 hours 55 minutes (including 20-minute interval).

The season is now almost complete (the Show opened on 23rd June and closes on 7th July). Tickets may still be available at The Savoyards website $50 ($45 10+ Group, $47 Concession, $28 Junior).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Friday 6th July 2018 performance.

Picture Credits: Production image by Michelle Thomas. Banner image of full cast curtain call by Geoff Lawrence.

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