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During my Thanksgiving weekend, amidst family greetings, family friend mingles and midterm studies, I’m fortunate to say that I had the utmost pleasure to see Cameron Mackintosh’s version of Boubil & Schönberg’s classic Les Misérables performed on stage at the Princess of Wales Theatre in downtown Toronto. It really made my weekend. (Your turkey was good too, Uncle Ray)
“Look down and show some mercy if you can. Look down, look down upon your fellow man.” (Beggars on the streets)
By now, thanks to the release of the Hollywood movie in 2012, those who were originally unfamiliar with the story have probably come into contact with some of the music or have a general idea of what the plot entails. Les Misérables is one of those stories you never tire of. It has something for everyone, history lovers, diehard romantics, and Broadway fans. In productions like Les Misérables, no excessive dialogue is necessary, the entire story is portrayed through song and lyric, much of the score repeated to evoke nostalgia for certain parts early in the story reiterated in latter moments.
Though the Princess of Wales Theatre, located on 300 King Street West is one of the older playhouses of downtown Toronto. It seats 2000 at a time and the last time I was there, I saw the Sound of Music. This time, the scenery was definitely more complicated to convey, ranging from the ship on the seas where Jean Valjean first labours, to the impoverished streets of 18th century France and of course, the infamous barricade. Despite the size of the stage, which is deeper than it is wide, I was thoroughly impressed with the lighting and stage direction of the characters and set. Transitions were incredibly smooth and quick. If you hold a minimal suspension of belief that theatre usually demands of you, you barely notice the changes and the story just flows from one setting to the next much like the camera shots in film.
The most amazing moment of stage effects must be during Javert’s suicide on top of a balcony above the rushing waters. I really expected him to jump into an open trap door on the stage, however, to my surprise and delight, the motions of his fall was recreated with ingenious manipulation of lights and the special effects of the animated backgrounds. He jumped and fell. I didn’t even see the performer exit the stage, not a glimpse of him sneaking off the stage at all!
“At the end of the day you’re another day colder, and the shirt on your back doesn’t keep out the chill.” (Beggars on the streets)
Costume design was really stunning and since it’s the characters that leave the longest impressions on us, costume is a big factor on how memorable they become in our minds. In my opinion, the skill of the costume designer isn’t one who creates the most elaborate and beautiful costumes for the main characters, but how much detail is found in the wardrobe of the supporting cast. It’s easy to spend twenty+ hours on Fantine, Valjean, Javert or Marius but it’s the outfits of the chorus and the miscellaneous characters that I always scrutinize… seriously, how many “simple” peasant outfits can you make and how many colours are you allowed? The supporting characters need to look individually different but aren’t allowed to overshadow the main cast aesthetically speaking and despite looking different, there should be a similar colour palette and theme throughout their wardrobe so when they stand together, they seem like a collective unit.
“And remember, the truth that once was spoken… To love another person is to see the face of god.” (The Epilogue)
Overall, I felt that the cast definitely possessed enough chemistry to render the story believable. Javert is always one of my favourite characters because of his sudden and rather shocking inner struggle and change after his encounters with Valjean. I loved Javert and Valjean as foils to each other especially in their encounters at the Barricade. Javert is always one of my favourite characters because it is as if his entire being encompasses the values of autocratic law-abiding values of the past and he serves to juxtapose the revolutionary ideologies of the Enlightenment.
As always, I’m a fan of Marius and Cosette. (Being the sappy Romeo and Juliet fan that I am) Having Marius climb atop the gate to sing to Cosette standing on her balcony completely melted my heart but the most heart-wrenching moment has to be Eponine’s death in Marius’s arms. It’s hard to fake a death. I know.
Everyone around me was crying by the time the Barricade was dismantled but I hit my breaking point at “Empty Chairs and Empty tables” with Marius. I was especially moved when the candles that were originally set on the stage by the women in “Turning,” were taken by the men of the Barricade, reappearing in the memories of Marius who each extinguish a candle, leaving Marius with the sole remaining light on the stage.
“In my life, there are times when I catch in the silence the sigh of a faraway song.” – Cosette
Theatre and Audience: 5/5 happy cloudsLes Misérables wasn’t my first stage production, and I’m immensely grateful for the disclaimer on the tickets site that warns parents to keep their kids quiet, well-behaved or away from the theatre. Okay, they made it sound nicer on the site but that’s really what they mean. I have personally attended a show surrounded by families with crying kids, babbling toddlers and screaming six year olds. It’s. Not. Pleasant. At. All. And if I’m paying almost a hundred dollars for my ticket, I deserve to a show without any disruptions. The atmosphere was courteous and sophisticated which I really enjoyed. Everyone kept silent when they were expected to be silent and clapped when they were expected to clap… Now, this is just a personal pet peeve of mine, but don’t sing along in the theatre. I have an intense urge to sing as well, but people around you have paid to hear the people on stage sing, not you. Be respectful in the theatre. Mind your etiquette.
If you’re a big Broadway buff and around the Toronto area, you should definitely check out the show. As of today, it’s still running and if you’ve already seen it, it’s worth seeing twice. If I wasn’t away in University, I would even go re-watch it again.
As well, there’s a ton of Les Mis merchandise available in the lobby after the show. Even though I know that merchandise is a ploy to get more money out of the audience, some of things they have are a real treat for fans of the story. You can even get a t-shirt with 24601 printed across the chest! Here are some of the things I purchased…
I hope you guys enjoyed this review. It’s not every week that I get to see such a spectacular production and my wallet never agrees with me when I venture into the world of theatre. Thank you for reading!
What are you pondering today?