Les Miserables: 25 years of revolution

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th October 2010.

One of the world’s most successful musicals celebrates its twenty fifth anniversary this year and plans are already underway to mark the occasion.

Les Misérables is based on the classic 1862 novel by Victor Hugo. It was originally written as a French language production in 1980 by composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricist Alain Boublil. Produced by theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh, the English adaption opened in October 1985 at the Barbican Centre in London. Initially receiving largely negative reviews, the production was warmly embraced by theatre goers and the show was a major box office success.

Twenty six years later, that original London production is still running at the Queen’s Theatre, where it celebrated its ten thousandth performance on January 5 this year. Hundreds of musicians and performers have passed through the London production. Only one musician, the drummer from the original London cast album, Peter Boita, remains with the production.

Of course, the show soon spread worldwide. On Broadway it ran for 6680 performances over sixteen years. In Australia, the original production, which starred Normie Rowe, Debra Byrne, Anthony Warlow and Philip Quast, ran between 1987 and 1989. In the early nineties, the production was made available to amateur companies and Orange Theatre Company was one of the first to produce the show in 1994, and again in 2002.

On October 3 this year, Les Misérables set another record, with an amazing three productions being performed at different venues in London. Besides the standard West End production, a UK touring 25th Anniversary Tour production was also playing at the original home of the London show, the Barbican Centre. At the immense O2 Arena (formally the Millennium Dome), which seats 23000 people, a 25th Anniversary Concert was also being staged.

The concert was certainly an all-star affair with a cast that included Filipino singing sensation Lea Salonga as Fantine, Nick Jonas of Jonas Brothers fame as Marius, current Phantom in Love Never Dies Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras and Little Britain’s Matt Lucas as Thénardier. With a cast of over three hundred performers and musicians, the concert also featured appearances from the original 1985 cast, the 25th Anniversary Tour cast and the current West End production cast.

Australian Les Misérables fans will also be able to participate in the celebrations with the 25th Anniversary Concert being shown on the big screen in cinemas this Thursday, October 21. Shot in high definition, the concert version should be spectacular, in particular the second encore which features four Jean Valjeans leading the ensemble in One Day More. If sitting in the cinema for three hours is not appealing, the concert is also scheduled for release on DVD and blu-ray disc in the UK in November with a subsequent Australian release also very likely.

Whilst Les Misérables may not be my favourite show, it was recently voted the UK’s favourite musical, receiving forty percent of the vote. There certainly is something embedded in the show which is very powerful thematically and musically. It has a strange way of rousing the human spirit in an audience. The longest running musical in history shows no sign of ending.

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Published in: on October 19, 2010 at 11:03  Leave a Comment  
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