Mar 28, 2016

[Theater] Les Misérables in Manila

A few years back I wrote about how nice it is that some pretty great theatrical productions are a lot more accessible in the region because of theater venues like the Marina Bay Sands Theatre in Singapore that has managed to draw various big name shows to Southeast Asia. In recent years we're not seeing some of those same productions come all the way here to the Philippines, thus further eliminating the need to travel. And while ticket prices can sometimes seem higher than their regional counterparts, it all evens out when you start to factor in things like airfare into the mix.

I never expected for the likes of Les Misérables to come to Manila though, and I'm glad that I was wrong on that count. This is one of those pillars of Broadway that have been running for like forever and a day and to have the show come to this little country is certainly a joy in itself.

And while I'm not a total fan of the venue, The Theatre at Solaire, admittedly it's still one of the better theaters in Metro Manila. Just don't expect a comfortable sitting experience given the way they structured their seating rows.

Synopsis: Les Misérables is a stage musical adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. Music for the play was composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg with English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. The London production is the second longest-running musical in the world. The Manila production was staged at The Theatre at Solaire from March 11 - April 24, 2016.

The musical follows the book in following the life of  Jean Valjean (Simon Gleeson), also known as prisoner 24601 after his arrest for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving sister's son. He is finally released on parole by Javert (Earl Carpenter) but he finds the life of an ex-convict is difficult as no one is willing to hire him. He eventually encounters The Bishop of Digne (Matt Harrop) who takes pity on him and he manages to turn his life around for the better. Thus we fast-forward to him in a new life with a new identity and doing his best to be a good man. But when the unmarried mother Fantine (Jessica Daley / Rachelle Ann Go) gets thrown out of his factory, it begins a chain of events no one could have predicted. And of course there's still the question of Javert, who hasn't forgotten prisoner 24601 and how he skipped parole.

First, the cast that came here to Manila was pretty solid. We caught a matinee with a number of understudies and it didn't feel like we were watching an "alternate" cast as it were. They were all seasoned performers and did their best.

Of course Gleeson and Carpenter certainly stand out versus all the others. Naturally the two play the main roles in this story as protagonist and antagonist, but with the switch-up of criminal and policeman roles respectively. The two actors were certainly very powerful singers and played off one another really well. They really carry the show and you will find yourself waiting for them to appear on stage every time,

The big crowd-pleasers will naturally be the roles of Thénardier (Cameron Blakely) and Madame Thénardier (Helen Walsh). They have some of the best songs and they naturally portray the role of comic relief of the musical so they're easy to appreciate. And the two performers themselves were also great and they milked every moment while they were on stage.

And of course you have stand-out performances by Kerrie Anne Greenland as Éponine and young Sebastian Witt as our Gavroche for the night. Despite the many performers on-stage and the powerful swell of the music, you could still feel them in their performances.

And while the cast was generally good, there were a few that weren't quite as great. I didn't quite fully feel Enjolras (Chris Durling) as the more or less leader of the revolution and Marius (Paul Wilkins) only really shone in one of his last songs in the production. The ensemble was okay but not stand out. But hey, they're still better than most performers out there.

The set in itself was amazingly stand-out and was a character in itself. This newer production involved also involved more dynamic backgrounds in the form of projected images based on paintings by Victor Hugo. There were so many set pieces moving to and fro combined with the occasional stereogram-style effects for the backgrounds resulting in the illusion of movement or how the same stage can transform into so many different locations. Really good job.

I think the only thing left to note is that I had forgotten how tiring this play can be. The nature of the music is rather martial in structure and every scene feels like it's operating at a very high level of energy without gaps or breaks in-between. It gets a little old pretty fast and for a production that is nearly 3 hours long, it feels more like 5-6 hours at times.

The orchestra seats at Solaire weren't as bad as the balcony seats, but were still quite cramped in terms of legroom. But at least the sight lines of the orchestra area were still pretty clear so it made for a good theater experience,

Les Misérables is still an institution in the theater world and not much was lost in bringing it over to Manila. It's definitely worth the time and effort and you're missing part of your life by missing it now that it's in-country. Thus the production gets a solid 4 crazy moments at the barricades out of a possible 5.

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