Review: Les Miserable at Sunderland Empire

Review: Les Miserable at Sunderland Empire

On Friday evening I was lucky enough to be invited the the Gala night performance of Les Miserables at the Sunderland Empire, and in short tv is is one of the best shows I’ve seen. It was C’est Incroyable! 

The original French musical premiered in Paris in 1980.  Cameron Mackintoshs English language adaptation has been running in London since October 1985, which makes it one of the longest-running musicals in the West End.  Seen by over 120 million people worldwide across 52  countries and in 22 languages, this alone shows it shows that it has a story line that appeals to and has ensured generations. Now this latest production dubbed Les Mis for the 21st century brought new elements to aid its production and they worked beautifully.

Based on the Victor Hugo classic novel, Les Misérables is the story of Jean Valjean. Valjean steals a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s dying child and is subsequently arrested and jailed. After attempts at doing better, society doesn’t help this branded convict and he falls back to thieving from a bishop who provided shelter. Caught stealing, this Bishop however covers for him and offers Valjean a second chance at life, of which he takes and reinvents himself as Monsieur Madeleine a factory owner and town mayor. Upon learning that he may have indirectly allowed the sacking of Fantine who later turned to prostitution to provide for her child, he makes a promise on her deathbed to look after her daughter Cosette. Throughout all this, Police inspector Javert seeks out Valjean after recognising him and seeks to bring this parole breaking convict to justice.

This production is sung in full with no dialogue and with many songs that you will have come to know of over the years, with an orchestra accompaniment they are just brilliant. 

Will Barrett played our lead Jean Valjean, this role he is actually the current understudy for, but in this performance he was every bit a leading man. He brought authority to the role, a presence and a truly remarkable performance, and an inspiring performance of Bring Him Home means we can expect to see a lot more. Nic Greensheilds was equally impressive as Javert towering over this cast. I really enjoyed the constant battle between these two and the overlapping vocals when fighting. 

Lauren Drew made an impression with her portrayal of Fantine and and an emotive rendition I Dreamed a Dream.

Performances were strong throughout, from Ian Hughes as Thénardier and Helen Walsh as Madame Thénardier, they brought a great comic element to the show and fab performance with ‘Master Of The House’, The love triangle that was Marius, Cosette and Éponine was enjoyable to see and brought love, vulnerability and friendship.

We love to see local actors in big productions so a shout out also has to go to local lad Lucas Melrose Steel who appeared as Gavroche, a cheeky chappy who knows what happens on the streets of France, who gave a wonderful performance.

The staging was brilliant. The size of some of these set pieces were huge, and yet transitioned seamlessly through scenes, this helped to bring a multi layered set. Which took us from the streets, to balconies and barricades. Lighting was essential for creating the mood and like the set just brilliantly worked. Spotlights beamed across, dimmed helped transition, also creating  atmosphere with huge success. 

This was a journey of what to me was Valjean seeking self redemption and a cause, whilst set amongst the backdrop of the French Revolution.  The whole production was faultless, every performance strong, the staging brilliant and the score was just wonderful. This is one of the best shows I’ve seen. Everything about this just shouted epic. It’s no surprise that this extended run at Sunderland Empire is close to a sell out already but if you are lucky you may be able to grab a seat at some point. 

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