Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2 Arena
We all knew Sunday 3rd October 2010 would be an evening we would remember for the rest of our lives but not one of us could have imagined just how utterly extraordinary it would be. A buzz of excitement and anticipation rippled through the massive arena audience as the first familiar, pounding notes electrified the air. This was to be the concert of all concerts for any Les Mis fan, with uber-spectacular, epic staging and lighting and a cast to die for.
The staging, in fact, ensured that it was rather more than a concert. The split level set with the superb 50 piece orchestra clearly visible above, and the various, huge stairways and multiple other entrance ways allowed it to be more like a fully costumed, theatre staging whereby performers could enter and exit as their roles demanded instead of being seated on stage awaiting their turn. The set had the epic proportions necessary for all 500 actors and musicians to be accommodated on stage at the same time and it was cleverly informed by both John Napier’s iconic original design and Matt Kinley’s design for the 25th Anniversary touring production. Three massive LED screens above the stage not only showed the featured performers but also the richly atmospheric projections used in the tour, and never to greater effect than in the cavernous sewer scene.
The emotionally charged audience greeted each new performer with rapturous applause and cheering and none more so than Alfie Boe. I have never before liked opera singers singing musical theatre songs, but Alfie Boe sang in a true musical theatre way, just letting rip at significant moments with glorious operatic oomph to phenomenal effect. His Bring Him Home stopped the show – literally – with a tumultuous standing ovation. He was well partnered by an impressive Javert in Norm Lewis, whose rich vocals and impassioned performance made Stars and Javert’s Suicide quite unforgettable. After opening in the role for the Broadway revival of the show in 2006, Norm is now playing opposite Simon Bowman’s Jean Valjean at the Queen’s theatre in London.
The haunting voice and the video close ups of Fantine allowed us to see and feel the extraordinary emotional integrity that Lea Salonga brought to the role. Nick Jonas and Katie Hall made a delightfully youthful Marius and Cosette, and Nick’s Empty Chairs at Empty Tables was sung with great feeling. However, I believe the sound guy let him down rather as his voice didn’t always sound strong enough in the huge arena, but I imagine this will be rectified for the DVD. Ramin Karimloo, currently playing the Phantom in Love Never Dies, was a splendid, strong-voiced Enjolras while Samantha Barks excelled as Eponine. Matt Lucas and Jenny Galloway injected a unique brand of humour to the Thénardiers, accompanied by the audience happily clapping along in time to the music.
The leading performances were perfectly complemented by a star-studded ensemble, with a silky-voiced Earl Carpenter as the Bishop of Digne, a perky Peter Polycarpou as the pimp and the engaging Hadley Fraser, who played the leading role in The Pirate Queen on Broadway, as Grantaire, while John Owen-Jones, who played Valjean in the touring production, was a convict. The 170 strong choir, dressed in red, white or blue T-shirts was also filled with big name performers such as Peter Karrie, Ethan Freeman, Hal Fowler and Graham Bickley. To have such voices in support of an incredible main cast resulted in an overall unprecedented richness of vocal quality.
For the Finale the current Queen’s theatre cast, the touring cast and members of the original cast all crammed on stage alongside the concert cast. The absolute highlight of the evening was a quartet of Valjeans: Alfie Boe, Colm Wilkinson, Simon Bowman and John Owen-Jones singing Bring Him Home. Their glorious voices, each taking a few lines and then harmonizing sublimely, resonated around the arena with heart-swelling magnitude and many a tear. The original cast including Colm Wilkinson, Michael Ball, Frances Ruffelle, Alun Armstrong and Roger Allam followed with a stirring rendition of One Day More.
Cameron Mackintosh, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbie Kretzmer all came on stage for brief speeches. Cameron thanked the casts over the years and the public for their loyalty and love for the show, while Alain acknowledged the debt owed to James Fenton, Trevor Nunn, John Caird and ‘master lyricist’ Herbert Kretzmer. It was, however, a shame not to see Trevor and John on the stage. The speeches ended and 200 young performers from Schools Edition productions entered the arena from all sides singing Do You Hear the People Sing as Cameron added: ‘They are the future. They will be doing Les Misérables when tomorrow comes.’
This emotion packed evening ended with fireworks, a cascade of confetti and thunderous applause from an audience who had been well and truly ‘wowed’ and were leaving with that very special, joyous feeling that no other musical can match.
|Jean Valjean||ALFIE BOE|
|M. Thénardier||MATT LUCAS|
|Mme. Thénardier||JENNY GALLOWAY|
|Little Cosette||MIA JENKINS|
|Young Eponine||CHLOE PANAYI|
|Convicts||JOHN OWEN-JONES, MIKE STERLING, TOM PEARCE, GERONIMO RAUCH, NIC GREENSHIELDS|
|Innkeeper’s wife||LYDIA GRIFFITHS|
|The Bishop of Digne||EARL CARPENTER|
|The Bishop’s Sister||VANESSA LEAGH HICKS|
|Constables||JAY BRYCE, RHIDIAN MARC|
|Factory Foreman||JEFF NICHOLSON|
|Male Workers||PAUL WESTFIELD, JON ROBYNS|
|Female Workers||SOPHIA RAGAVELAS, GEMMA WARDLE|
|Factory Girl||GRAINNE RENIHAN|
|Sailors||ANTHONY HANSEN, JON LEE, GARY WATSON|
|Whores||GILLIAN BUDD, ZOE CURLETT, SARA PELOSI, AMANDA SALMON|
|Old Woman||RHIANNON O’CONNOR|
|Madame||VANESSA LEAGH HICKS|
|Jean Prouvaire||ALISTER BRAMMER|
|‘Turning’ Women||MADELENA ALBERTO, GINA BECK,
ROSALIND JAMES, LUCIE JONES, REBECCA SEALE
|Original French Text||ALAIN BOUBLIL, JEAN-MARC NATEL|
|Additional Material||JAMES FENTON|
|Original Production adapted and directed by||TREVOR NUNN, JOHN CAIRD|
|Concert Directed by||LAURENCE CONNOR, JAMES POWELL|
|Original Orchestrations||JOHN CAMERON|
|New Orchestrations||CHRISTOPHER JAHNKE|
|Additional Orchestrations||STHEPHEN METCALFE, STEPHEN BROOKER|
|Musical Supervisor||STEPHEN BROOKER|
|Conducted by||DAVID CHARLES ABELL|
|Costume Design||ANDREANE NEOFITOU|
|Additional Costumes||CHRISTINE ROWLAND|
|Lighting||PATRICK WOODROFFE, PAULE CONSTABLE|
The superb quality 70 page oversized A4 programme was packed full of information and pictures detailing the concert performance, the touring and Queen’s productions and the original production, the schools edition production, pictures of the various posters and international details. It was excellent value for £10 and is sure to become a collector’s item. Additional programmes are available from Dress Circle in London: www.dresscircle.co.uk.
The DVD of the show will be released on 29 November 2010 and can be ordered from Amazon at £12.99
BBC Television is making a one hour documentary special for broadcast on BBC Two this Christmas, presented by Matt Lucas, telling the extraordinary story of how Les Misérables became a global phenomenon across 25 years. Filmed during preparations for the 25th Anniversary concerts, the programme will feature exclusive behind the scenes footage. It will also follow Matt’s personal journey to fulfil a life long dream by appearing in the show.
The performance was followed by a terrific party at Indigo2 for cast and friends. It was an excellent opportunity for performers to catch up with each other and truly celebrate such a memorable occasion in style. And on 8 October, the actual Les Mis birthday, Trevor Nunn and John Caird were honoured by the original cast at a party at Joe Allen’s in Covent Garden.