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