Passion and power. Rage and redemption. Love and loss.
These are elements of a great story, and they are elements that really come through in Les Misérables, the award-winning musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel. They’re what make this story so enthralling, and the emotions that draw you into this incredible story are on full display when the musical is performed in the intimate and beautiful Chemainus Theatre Festival.
The Chemainus Theatre Festival debut of Les Misérables, the musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, opened Friday, June 20, and it was an incredible show from the very beginning right to the end.
The theatre was transformed into dark and grimy Paris in the 1800s, as we were swept away in a tale of suffering, sacrifice, survival and spirit. The audience is so close to the action that they can see the emotion in the actors’ faces, and the 18-member cast makes a compelling story even more powerful. I’ve never seen Les Misérables on a bigger stage or a big screen, but I found the characters really pulled you into the story because it felt like you were right there. Being so close to the stage brings you that much more into the story and that much closer to the characters, which are all very strong.
Les Misérables takes place during the Paris Uprising of 1832, when the downtrodden Jean Valjean clings to what little hope remains in his life of bad luck and poor choices.
Though given the chance to be an, “honest man,” Valjean is discovered eight years later, having broken parole and living under the assumed identify of Monsieur Madeleine, a wealthy factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer.
His criminal past comes back to haunt him as his nemesis, police inspector Javert relentlessly tracks him down to seek justice. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.
Under the direction of Peter Jorgenson, incredibly talented actors bring this story, which is told entirely in song, to life.
There’s so much talent on the stage in this production.
Kieran Martin Murphy, who plays Valjean, has a great voice, and he makes you quickly want to root for the selfless and strong ex-convict. Sayer Roberts, who plays Marius, also has a great voice, and as one of the idealistic youth leading the charge at the barricade, he does a fantastic job. Andrew Wheeler as M. Thenardier and Caitriona Murphy as his wife bring humour to the uglier sides of the story, and they play their distasteful parts very well. Young Sebastian Tow is terrific as the tough street urchin Gavroche, and a really interesting connection is that his late father, Jeremy Tow, was the theatre’s artistic direction in the late 1990s when they first started working on bringing Les Misérables to Chemainus.
There are many strong women with beautiful voices in this production. Lauren Bowler is fabulous as Fantine, making her strong, not just sad; and Michelle Bardach really made me relate to Eponine. Lily Killam was adorable as young Cosette, and Vanessa Croome showcases a beautiful soprano voice as the older Cosette as the story goes along.
I know how excited the Chemainus Theatre Festival was to be able to finally produce Les Misérables and how hard everyone has worked to bring this production to Vancouver Island, and I think they should be just as happy and proud now that it’s running. This is the best production I’ve seen here.
If you love a good story and you love good music, you’ll want to see Les Misérables at the Chemainus Theatre Festival while it’s here. The production runs until Sept. 7, and there is an opportunity to ask the cast and crew questions during a talkback session after Wednesday performances. For more information, visit www.chemainustheatre.ca.