Arts Club's Les Misérables boasts a strong, talented cast

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      A musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. Directed by Bill Millerd. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Wednesday, July 8. Continues until August 16

      The amazing thing about Les Misérables is that, at the exact moment that you’re going, “My God, could it get any cornier?” the show brings tears to your eyes.

      Adapted from Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miz is about Jean Valjean, who has served 19 years of hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. When Inspector Javert finally releases him, Valjean is forced to carry a yellow card that marks him as an ex-con—and makes survival impossible. So he tears up the card, adopts a new identity, and becomes a successful factory owner. When Fantine, one of his workers, dies, he adopts her daughter, Cosette. But Javert is always on his tail.

      In Act 1, there’s so much plot and it goes by so quickly that you could get windburn. Les Miz is pseudo-operatic, so most of the songs are delivered at full, exhausting volume. And composer Claude-Michel Schönberg repeats his favourite musical themes ad nauseam.

      And yet, Les Misérables knows how to push buttons. As a young woman, Cosette falls in love with Marius, one of the students who take to the barricades during the Paris Uprising of 1832. Valjean joins the protest, and when Marius is wounded, he sings “Bring Him Home”, a kind of prayer, over the young man’s body. These two have barely met, but we buy into their relationship because it’s archetypal and because the song’s melody is lovely. Out of nowhere, we have a weeper.

      It doesn’t hurt that the cast in director Bill Millerd’s production is strong. Andrew Wheeler and Nicola Lipman play a pair of streetwise schemers called the Thénardiers, and they are to die for, largely because they’re having the time of their lives. Wheeler is fabulously playful, forgetting how to genuflect and inventing little minuet steps for himself.

      And Lipman is a genius, so sly and funny as her Mme. Thénardier undercuts her husband and loves him up at the same time. When they sing the rollicking “Master of the House” together, it’s a showstopper.

      Marius is a thankless role—like Tony in West Side Story, he is a two-dimensionally love-struck straight man—but Sayer Roberts brings winning sincerity and a great set of pipes to the part. With that combo, he makes “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, Marius’s ballad about fallen comrades, genuinely moving.

      Jaime Olivia MacLean, who is nine—nine, for pity’s sake—impresses as the Young Cosette with her powerful, pitch-perfect singing. And playing the Thénardiers’ innocent daughter, Éponine, Jennie Neumann capitalizes on the role’s poignancy and shapes her songs beautifully.

      Although, on opening night, Kieran Martin Murphy (Jean Valjean) struggled a bit at both ends of the huge vocal range the part demands, the guy’s got solid chops, and he delivers a portrait of affecting dignity.

      Warren Kimmel, who’s playing Javert, is one of the most gifted musical-theatre performers you’re ever likely to see. His baritone is as beautiful as ever and his emotionally intense portrayal helps to humanize the character.

      Les Misérables remains a musical about the poor for the well-heeled—if you’re sitting in a corner of the balcony, you’re still paying $79 on a Saturday night.

      But you know what? It’s also the most entertaining show in town.




      Jul 20, 2015 at 4:15pm

      I saw the show in 2009 twice and was so excited to see it again. I even brought my friends because I told them how it was so great. I am so utterly disappointed with this recent version. Reading the programme it appears that many of these actors are new to show business and it came across so incredibly amatuer. I remember loving the rebel students in the last show , but in his one, I don't remember any of them a day later. Several keys actors were wonderfully skilled and expert, but so many others seemed inexperienced and very boring. The show sadly didn't have the impact that Les Miserables usually has. There were also plenty of empty seats which tells me maybe I'm not the only one to feel this way. 8-(

      Les "Miss"

      Jul 28, 2015 at 11:42am

      I'm sorry to say that I agree with the comment above. I think this version really missed many of the things that make Les Miserables memorable. I missed the power of the orchestra and voices. Some of the main characters were good (Eponine and Valjean), others not so much. The chorus overacted and couldn't produce a powerful booming sound that Les Miserables fans are used to. We saw it at the Queen E last year and could not help but compare. My partner and I go to many Arts Club musicals and pay full price to support the company. Bring back Avenue Q!

      Support Theatre!

      Jul 28, 2015 at 6:31pm

      I enjoyed it! Sure many of the actors are new on the scene and are inexperienced, but this is Vancouver. We have to embrace the little bit of "professional" theatre we have left. At least these actors were paid! From what I understand,most people who are professional actors in theatre move to Toronto.