Tag Archives: Valjean

Les Misérables: The Day of The Understudies!

Once again, my friend Scolytinae brings us a review of the West End production of Les Misérables, after her excellent piece on the version with Alfie Boe as Valjean last autumn.  She and her husband braved the bad winter weather to see Ramin Karimloo in the role, only to be met with a few surprises:

Let’s be honest, you don’t actually need an excuse for a repeat visit to Les Misérables, but I must admit that the prospect of seeing Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean persuaded us to make a return trip only 4 short months after our last excursion.  So you can imagine our disappointment when on arrival at Queen’s Theatre, we were greeted with notices in the foyer stating that due to the indisposition of Ramin Karimloo, the role of Jean Valjean would be played by Christopher Jacobsen.

Settled in our seats, we philosophically decided that “these things happen.” As a Twitter user I knew that Ramin’s recent Japanese tour had taken a lot out of him and that he was struggling, but then came an announcement that the roles of Marius and Enjolras would also be played by understudies.  We looked at each other—this would definitely be a different show to the one we had seen last September!

However, I would now like to go on record to say that this was one of the finest performances I have ever seen.  Christopher Jacobsen was simply stunning.  A powerful actor as well as singer, he brought us a Valjean of contrasts—burning passion at the injustices he suffered, yet a quiet dignity as he determined to throw off his past, start again, and make things right.  Opposite the magnificent Hadley Fraser as Javert, it felt like a whole new dynamic had appeared as the two of them faced off against each other, on occasion speaking rather than singing some of their lines as they circled each other, vying for control of the situation.

I thought Hadley was fabulous when I saw him last year, but over the ensuing months, his Javert has evolved—still intractable and inexorably driven, but now almost a sense of vulnerability.  Valjean’s manner and treatment of him was just so far outside his view of the natural order that he simply could not cope.  There was a particularly poignant moment during the suicide scene where he sings “I am the law and the law is not mocked.” At this point, he valiantly tries to regain his control and composure by pulling his lapels together and buttoning up that iconic overcoat—magic.  Thunderous applause greeted both his featured songs, and rightly so. This man is a true performer.

Marius was played by the impossibly cute Fra Fee—and what a fabulous performance it was.  Such depth and emotion from one so young; I am not ashamed to admit to a few tears after “A Little Fall of Rain,” beautifully portrayed opposite the superb Alexia Khadime.  I’m sure my hubby won’t mind me saying that he reached for the tissues too at this point!  What a beautiful voice this young man has, and such presence on stage.  I sincerely hope he’s a name to watch out for in the future.

Enjolras was beautifully played by Scott Garnham, who led his students with an understated strength and authority.  I just loved the interaction between all the students, and Adam Linstead’s Grantaire was a triumph.  In fact, I was so impressed by everyone who stepped up to fill roles vacated by the leads.  If I have to be critical, and maybe I should to prove that I can be objective where Les Mis is concerned, the only weak spot was the youngster who played Gavroche. Whether it was down to nerves, I don’t know, but he had a rather shaky start, rushing some of his lines and throwing some away completely.  He did soon settle down, and there was a huge gasp from the audience during the scene where he was shot whilst collecting ammunition.  You know, I must be getting old, because both he and the young girl playing Cosette seemed so small and fragile, almost like they should be at home tucked up in bed rather than up onstage!!

If there were any negative vibes emanating from people who bought tickets expecting to see Ramin Karimloo, then Christopher Jacobsen certainly wasn’t affected by them.  It must be a daunting feeling to step onstage knowing that many people in the audience wish you weren’t there.  Christopher simply took the audience by storm, and seemed genuinely overwhelmed by his rapturous reception at the end.  So much so that, after taking center stage for a few seconds, he called the cast back onstage to join him for another bow, to happily acknowledge the lengthy standing ovation which was a fitting end to a truly incredible show.  A day of understudies it may have been, but it is a tribute to the depth of talent in British musical theatre that this didn’t matter one iota—we heard the people sing, and they were fantastic!

Thank you, Scolytinae!  It sounds like a great afternoon of theatre.  It looks like we’ll have to add Christopher Jacobsen, Fra Fee, and Scott Garnham to our growing list of favorite West End actors.

See also: Beg, Borrow or Steal to See Les Misérables


Filed under Actors, Theatre

Beg, Borrow or Steal to See Les Misérables

I am very lucky to have friends who are willing to write reviews for me.  Last month I published Scolytinae’s guest review of the London production of Les Misérables.  Another friend saw the musical this week, and here are her impressions: 

Les Miserables logo Queen's Theatre, LondonLes Misérables – Queen’s Theatre, London

I first saw Les Mis on stage when I was 17 at a local theatre in Yorkshire and have loved it ever since, but it has taken me almost 15 years to see it again.  Despite living in London for several years and seeing many plays and musicals during that time, for some unfathomable reason I never went to see Les Mis.  Seeing the Matt Lucas “I Dreamed A Dream” documentary was the trigger that finally got me to go and see it in the West End.

Due to a mix up in booking the tickets, I first saw the show in August with Jonathan Williams as Jean Valjean and then again in September with Alfie Boe in the lead role.  Since then, I have become slightly addicted to the Les Mis booking website and can now look forward to a further two visits this year alone.  I’m hoping for some kind of loyalty discount from Cameron Mackintosh, especially as Ramin Karimloo is joining the cast to take over from Alfie Boe in November.

Thursday night was my third visit.  Previously, I had seats in the dress circle and at the back of the stalls, but this time we had front row seats in the stalls at the right hand side.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but we certainly were close to the stage and to the orchestra—perhaps too close to the orchestra, as we could hear the brass section chatting at times.  On the plus side, my eye did keep being drawn to the conductor and it was fascinating to see him directing the cast as well as the orchestra—I got a real insight into how much work must go into getting the timing right.

Being so close to the stage meant we could see every facial expression of the cast and that did really add an extra element, particularly in all the Valjean/Javert double handers.  However, on the down side, it did mean the cast could make eye contact with us, which was slightly disconcerting.  I didn’t quite know where to look when three of the factory workers sang “At the End of the Day” while staring directly into my eyes.  Goodness knows what I would have done if Alfie or Hadley had made eye contact……

Alfie Boe and Hadley Fraser, Les Miserables

Alfie Boe and Hadley Fraser

The heart of the show is undoubtedly Alfie Boe’s Jean Valjean playing against Hadley Fraser’s feral Javert, but this visit I appreciated what an ensemble piece it is, with Eponine, Javert, Marius and Fantine having strong songs of their own.  This company is very talented, and I warmed to Caroline Sheen’s Fantine and Lisa-Anne Wood’s portrayal of Cosette much more than previously.  Due to the wonders of twitter, I could pick out members of the ensemble, and particular praise should go to Fra Fee and James Charlton—both have amazing voices.

Alfie Boe is sublime as Valjean, but his performance did seem the same as the first time I saw him.  There’s nothing I can put my finger on; it may just be that in contrast to all the other major characters, he has not developed the role any further, and there’s certainly no need.  Perhaps I’m getting too used to hearing his voice and don’t appreciate him fully.  My friend was certainly blown away by the power and control of his singing.


Scott Garnham as Enjolras

Scott Garnham (not wearing Enjolras wig!)

Scott Garnham and Adam Linstead deserve special mention.  Scott played Enjolras, as Liam Tamne was away.  Leaving aside the fact that the hair & make-up team managed to make a good-looking man unattractive, there was little to fault in his portrayal of Enjolras, and he was more believable in the role than Liam.  I would love to see what he would do with the role on a more permanent basis.  Adam Linstead’s Grantaire wins the “most improved” award.  He has really grown into this role and added a lot to it since I saw him last.  He starts as a laid-back bon viveur with the complexities of the character coming out in the emotional barricade scenes.

I was intrigued to see how Cameron Blakely would take on Thénardier—no mean feat to step into Matt Lucas’ shoes.  He has kept the role pretty similar and in the first half was easily a match to Matt—his “Master of The House” was superb.  However, he didn’t have the necessary menace in the sewer scenes, and the comedy was lacking a bit in the wedding scene.  It is early days though, so I will be interested to see how he develops the role.

Hadley Fraser as Javert, Les Miserables, London, Queen's Theatre

Hadley Fraser as Javert

I have tried to be as objective as I can, but in my eyes, Hadley Fraser can do no wrong.   I’ve yet to see anything less than stunning performances in all the YouTube clips, and I was also lucky enough to be at the Phantom 25th Anniversary concert a few weeks ago.  I read a recent interview with Hadley where he said he was trying to bring out the animalistic side of Javert.  I have to say, he has really developed this side of the character since my last visit.  There were times where he really seemed only half-human and more like a feral dog, albeit one with a lot of pent-up anger and confusion.  He was quite terrifying to watch from the front row, and I was glad he had a firm grasp of the truncheon, as I would not have wanted that flung across my face.

All in all, it was a fantastic evening.  If you like Les Mis or musical theatre in general, this cast is an absolute must-see.  I am excited about the prospect of Ramin Karimloo joining.  I can’t imagine him as Jean Valjean, but for me that only adds to the anticipation.

I’m not really a fan of hanging around the stage door, but I still managed to act like a crazy fan girl.  While waiting for a taxi on the street afterwards, I spotted Hadley walking past us, and I squealed “Oh, there’s Hadley!” to my friend.  He looked at me a bit oddly, so I think he heard—oh, the embarrassment….  But then he sloped off into the night, looking very slight and laid-back—quite a difference to the Javert who had been towering over us so menacingly half an hour before.

Thank you, helsbrownie!   You’re a star for taking the time to write this for us.

Yes, Ramin Karimloo will be replacing Alfie Boe as Valjean at the end of November, performing six times a week from November 29, 2011, through March 3, 2012.  Karimloo and Fraser, together again!


Filed under Actors, Theatre

Hadley & Les Mis: the only way to spend a Saturday

A guest review of the London production of Les Misérables from Scolytinae:

Hadley Fraser as JavertAs I am a huge Hadley Fraser fan, I should warn you in advance—this review may be a little biased!  I had booked my tickets back in April and was eagerly anticipating both the show and just how Hadley would interpret this complex character, my expectations were high, and I am happy to report that they were met, then exceeded tenfold!

 From the moment he strode on stage to hand Valjean his “yellow ticket of leave”, Hadley grabbed the role and made it his own.  His Javert was not a cold, calculating villain, but rather a man driven by his own certainties—you break the law, you are punished—you are a lawbreaker, you are unworthy, and it’s this that ensures his dogged pursuit of Valjean across the years.  Every time they encounter each other, Javert is bested by Valjean, and this sense of growing frustration came over so well.   One particularly memorable moment for me was after the students had fallen at the barricade. Javert returns and, in a very agitated manner, searches through the corpses looking for Valjean.   When it becomes clear he isn’t amongst the bodies, Hadley’s cry of rage and despair was something to behold.

 “Stars” is one of my favourite songs from the show, and I have heard it performed many times, but never quite as well as this.  I was obviously not alone in that opinion, as the thunderous applause began long before that amazing final note finished.  This moment was only surpassed by the incredible suicide scene.  As Valjean slips through his fingers yet again, you really begin to feel for Javert and watch in dismay as he begins to lose his grip on the world.  There really is no place for him to go, and with wild hair and dishevelled clothing, he clambers over the railings, throws himself off the bridge and, with clever use of lighting and the centre revolve of the stage,  is swept away.  A breathtaking moment, with Hadley not just singing but acting every note.

One of the many things that struck me was just how physical the show was.  Students, and the more senior cast members, clambering up, down and across the magnificent barricade, an incredible fight between Valjean and Javert, culminating in Alfie Boe smashing a chair and brandishing the broken leg in Hadley’s face, and, after Javert is revealed as a spy and handed over to Valjean, Alfie throws Hadley against a wall and pins him there with a musket under the chin!   All this whilst singing too—you certainly need stamina to be in this production! 

Ah, yes—there were other people up there on stage too!  The entire cast was absolutely superb, and mentioning everyone’s individual performance could take some time!  Instead, I’ll just say that this young cast have gelled together so well since June, and are producing some quite incredible performances.  I must however give a quick mention to the lovely Alfie Boe, magnificent as ever and who gave an incredibly moving performance, and Cameron Blakely who took over the role of Thénardier following Matt Lucas’ departure last week.  He has a lovely voice and gave us some genuinely funny moments, his timing was spot on.   I loved the little girl who played young Cosette.   She was such a tiny, fragile looking little thing, and the pail to fetch the water from the well in the wood was almost as big as she was!  This didn’t stop her from delivering a lovely “Castle on a Cloud.”  It was such a pity she wasn’t able to return to take her bow at the end.

It may be 26 years old, but Les Misérables shows no signs of ageing or of losing its appeal, as the “House Full” sign at the door on a sunny Saturday afternoon attested to.  It looks great, sounds fabulous and, with performances like this, means that this is a situation that isn’t going to change any time soon!  Quite simply, this is musical theatre at its very best.

Thanks, Scolytinae!   Now I’m even more desperate to get to London to see this production.  Great bug name, too.  (My guests get to pick their own!) 


Filed under Actors, Theatre

Hugh Jackman as Valjean

In the latest casting news, Hugh Jackman is saying to the press that he will be playing Jean Valjean in the movie version of the musical Les Misérables.   I have not yet found an official confirmation of this from the movie’s producers, so I sure hope those contracts are signed and the deal is sealed.   I’m not saying this because I’m desperate to see Jackman do the role.  It’s just that he’s a really nice guy, and if he says he’s playing the role, I want to believe him.

People who only know Jackman as a movie actor might not realize that he got his start doing musicals in Melbourne and London.  He played Gaston in Beauty & The Beast and Curly in Oklahoma.   His Oklahoma was filmed onstage, and I have the DVD.  He’s really good, although the curly perm is pretty unconvincing!   I have witnessed Jackman’s musical talents firsthand, having seen him in Carousel at Carnegie Hall and in his Tony Award winning role in The Boy from Oz.  My feelings about him playing Valjean are cautiously optimistic.  He has the acting ability and the physical stature to play a man who’s unusually strong.  He’s the right age for the beginning of the story, and movie makeup techniques (not to mention digital effects) will age him gradually to an old man.  Heck, the way they aged Brad Pitt backwards in Benjamin Button, Valjean will be a breeze.  Jackman can sing, although I don’t know if his range will take him all the way through Valjean’s big solo, Bring Him Home.  I think it would be smart for Jackman to record this song in advance and release it on iTunes, because this will create buzz for the movie and reassure the skeptics.  These include the many fans of Colm Wilkinson, Alfie Boe, and all the other brilliant actors who have played the role onstage.  I’d really like to hear Jackman sing any Les Mis song, because I think I hear his Australian accent in the vowel sounds when he sings.  Now, I’m no expert in either singing or Aussie accents, so this may not be what I’m hearing.   I’m hoping folks will offer their opinions in the comment section.

After my friend said she only knew Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (X-Men), I got to thinking about the two characters.  Wolverine and Valjean are actually similar in a lot of ways.  They are both bitter men, angry at society’s injustices.  They both have shameful secrets; Valjean is a convict who broke parole, and Wolverine is a mutant.  They are both very strong physically.  Granted, Valjean has no adamantium claws that retract between his knuckles, but he does lift a cart off a man trapped beneath.   Both characters are softened and changed by helping a young girl; Valjean rescues Cosette, Wolverine rescues Rogue.  I suppose it’s kind of silly to compare a comic book superhero to one of the great characters of literature.  I’m just trying to point out that playing Valjean might not be that much of a stretch for an actor who’s used to playing Wolverine.

Paul Bettany

Paul Bettany

The press is also reporting that Paul Bettany has auditioned for Javert, the police inspector who doggedly hunts Valjean through the years.  I love Paul Bettany, and he’s an actor with a fantastic range.  He played the naked Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale, Dakota Fanning’s brutal father in The Secret Life of Bees, and Opus Dei monk Silas in The Da Vinci Code.  I have never heard him sing.  I don’t know if he can, or what his vocal range might be.  If Les Mis were being filmed in India, it wouldn’t matter.  In the Bollywood musical tradition, the actors aren’t expected to sing their own songs, and the “playback” singers are as famous as the actors.   The actors have to do their own dancing, of course, but Les Mis is not a musical that requires that particular talent. Anyway, if Paul Bettany ends up playing Javert, I guess we will all find out if he can sing.

It’s also being reported that Tom Hooper may direct the Les Mis movie.  He just won the Oscar for directing The King’s Speech.  Looking over his various credits, he definitely has experience with period costume dramas, having done the movie Elizabeth I and miniseries like John Adams and Daniel Deronda.  Has he directed a movie musical?  Well, how many people actually have?

It’s pretty amazing that Les Mis is finally being made into a movie, after 25 years of waiting.  I hope it doesn’t turn out to be like The Hobbit, with years of even more delays, and with actors and directors finally moving on to other projects.   How much longer can we wait?  (Don’t say One Day More.  Please.)


Filed under Actors, Movies, Theatre


Lea Salonga as Fantine in the Les Misérables concert.

Lea Salonga as Fantine, Les Miserables

"You must send us more money, your child needs a doctor, there's no time to lose."

Lea Salonga as Fantine and Jeff Nicholson, Les Miserables

You must sack the girl today! "Right my girl, on your way."

Lea Salonga as Fantine, Les Miserables

I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living...

Lea Salonga as Fantine, Les Miserables

What can I do? It pays a debt! Ten francs may save my poor Cosette!

Lea Salonga as Fantine, Les Miserables

Life has landed you at the bottom of the heap. Join your sisters, make money in your sleep.

Lea Salonga as Fantine, Les Miserables

I never did no wrong. My daughter's close to dying.

Fantine and Valjean (Alfie Boe & Lea Salonga) Les Miserables

Your child will want for nothing, and none will ever harm Cosette as long as I am living.

Fantine and Cosette (Lea Salonga & Mia Jenkins) Les Miserables

Tell Cosette I love her and I'll see her when I wake...

Related Posts:   Gavroche   My Les Mis    Please Sir, I Want Some More    To The Barricade!   Ramin Karimloo   Grantaire   Enjolras & Grantaire   Thénardier Waltz    Gavroche: Liar!     Bring Him Home   Enjolras    Les Mis: The Originals  24601

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Here is Alfie Boe as Valjean at the beginning of the Les Misérables concert. When Valjean gets his yellow ticket of leave from prison, he discovers being paroled does not free him.  He steals from the Bishop, but instead of sending him back to prison, the Bishop (Earl Carpenter) gives him his silver candlesticks as well, saying he must use the silver to become an honest man. Valjean rips up his yellow ticket and begins a new life.  

Alfie Boe Jean Valjean Les Miserables

The day begins, and now let's see, what this new world will do for me.

Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, Les Miserables

This piece of paper in my hand, it makes me cursed throughout the land. It is the Law!

Alfie Boe Jean Valjean Les Miserables

Tell his Reverence your story, let us see if he's impressed!

Alfie Boe Jean Valjean Les Miserables Earl Carpenter Bishop of Digne

God has raised you out of darkness, I have bought your soul for God.

Alfie Boe Jean Valjean Les Miserables

Why did I allow this man to touch my soul and teach me love?

Alfie Boe Jean Valjean Les Miserables

Take an eye for an eye, turn your heart into stone! This is all I have lived for, this is all I have known! Is there another way to go?

Alfie Boe Valjean Les Miserables
Jean Valjean is nothing now, another story must begin!

Related Posts:   Gavroche   My Les Mis    Please Sir, I Want Some More    To The Barricade!   Ramin Karimloo   Grantaire   Enjolras & Grantaire   Thénardier Waltz    Gavroche: Liar!     Bring Him Home   Enjolras   Les Mis: The Originals


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