(Seen at the first press preview on 21st October 2013)
Tim Rice is on
splendid form as lyricist, and there is much else to like in this lengthy new
musical that really does have everything writers, designers, actors and director
can throw at it.
The film runs a little under 2 hours, the original novel to around 1000
pages... so guess which the stage writers chose to go with... Lucky for them, at
almost 2 hours 50 minutes (only 20 of them interval time), what’s on stage
mostly holds the audience’s attention.
It really is Tim Rice’s evening. Even when the music isn’t quite up to it,
there’s a consistency to the words that carries it through. When words and music
collide – the heartbreaking “The Boys of ’41,” soulful “Run Along Joe” and
“Something In Return,” – the show reveals just how strong it really is.
The difficulty is that the director hasn’t really settled on a consistent
style for the whole. Elongating scenes to take in a song and dance when a few
lines will do, and confusing us emotionally by putting the “camp” into military
camp yet army formality into a lounge room encounter, just twist too far the
night’s emotional pathway.
Clever theatrical staging excuses a few of these indulgences like “You Got
The Money.” The iconic “roll in the waves” sequence flirts with the overblown,
but is ultimately solved neatly enough. It’s just that rather too occasionally
things degenerate into snigger-worthy camp - soldiers diving about their beds to
demonstrate the “G Company Blues” and a sea-sick inducing boxing ring.
The climatic fatal air-raid is always going to be a theatrical conundrum, and
in this case it underlines the “Fosse meets Follies” battle over what’s both
great and wrong with the show. To the closing moments, events hit the target –
but keep hitting it for that little too long. You want to weep, but don’t quite
know why, as there is too much happening. If a man dies, please don’t give him
five minutes of out-of-body “song and dance,” it really does get in way of that
good cry which lifts any theatrical evening out of the ordinary.
For this is better than ordinary, right from the creative under-canopy seen
before entering the theatre. It’s a great tale, with some deeply moving moments
(the monkey won’t spoil them by elaborating). It’s a strong cast. Darius
Campbell, Ryan Sampson, Siubhan Harrison and Robert Lonsdale form a central
quartet whose stories draw us in and are enhanced, rather than ruined, by
flashback. A well chosen company of character actors support them, and the
simple designs create memorable scenes.
As Tim Rice often says, “the shorter the musical, the better.” With 20
minutes or more trimmed, and the excesses cut, “Les Misérables” refinement
style, what is already a compelling show will become a completely fascinating