Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch
Reviewed by AARON DAHMEN
Taking audiences on an epic journey well beyond the majestic Isaac Theatre Royal, the Showbiz Christchurch production of Les Misérables was one of a kind.
Set against a 19-century backdrop of passion, redemption and broken dreams, the story is told through Jean Valjean, who is released from unjust imprisonment to face a relentless battle for acceptance. He breaks parole in hope of starting anew, instead fuelling what becomes a lifelong struggle with police inspector Javert.
Having won over 100 international awards and seen by more than 65 million people worldwide, Les Misérables is an uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, the modern classic features one of the most memorable scores of all time. But it can also be a difficult musical to get right.
This one certainly did that, and more.
It’s the third time Stephen Robertson has directed a Showbiz Christchurch production of Les Misérables, and his fresh input was positively evident. Richard Marrett, who is well-known across the country for his work as a vocal coach, pianist, arranger and conductor, provided musical direction.
Jean Valjean, played by Sydney-born tenor Daniel Belle, was introduced in a powerful soliloquy early on. He provided the preface to an incredible cast performance that compelled from start to finish. Belle has taken up the role ‘hundreds of times’ for the Australian National production of Les Misérables, and on the Asian tour performing in Manila, Singapore and Dubai.
A novelty rotating centre-stage brought the vibrant storyline to life and created dynamics rarely seen in a physical form. As hits like At the End of the Day, I Dreamed a Dream and One Day More rang out, the sensory experience left goosebumps and tingling emotions coursing from head to toe.
Captivating and intense, it was clear the cast weren’t going to wait around. This was their moment to shine.
Young Cosette, played on opening night by eight-year-old Isla Palmer, hit all the right notes in Castle on a Cloud and a cheeky Master of the House rendition left the sold-out crowd giggling away. As the relationship between Cosette and Valjean developed, a blanket wrapped the audience in emotive sensibilities. One simply couldn’t take eyes off the main event.
The interlude came around in a flash, an approximately 3-hour show daunting at first, but very quickly becoming a musical theatre breeze. Soon, it was back underway…and better than ever.
Valjean brought the house down with Bring Him Home, as a stunning mix of visual aides and lighting enveloped the stage. Moments later, the French flag was reflected in smoke behind Enjolras, who lead the revolution with such passion that those in the audience wanted to get up and fight alongside him.
A heartwarming epilogue tugged at the heartstrings for a final time, before the curtain closed on another Broadway special.
The connection between audience and cast created a breath-taking last Showbiz Christchurch production for 2018. From hearing voices singing along in your head, to imagining a fight for national freedom, this pop opera overflowed with artistic brilliance and exceptional talent.
One of the only shows that can get away with coming back once every decade, it was an emotional rollercoaster to remember.
Anything but miserable, in fact.
Tickets are still available for the remaining performances of Les Misérables, which continue through until 6th October. Purchase them here.
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