Last night we went to the Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in order to see Les Misérables. This is a show I last saw in the 1980s when it was at the Palace Theatre on Cambridge circus. Performing then was Graham Bickley (from whom I got a tour behind the scenes after the show – I had gone with a friend, and his father knew him).
I knew the show pretty well, or so I thought – but, especially at the start, there were whole segments that seemed new to me. Of the bits I knew, there were some small changes in the odd note here or there, perhaps unsurprising with so many personnel changes over the years.
I’d not been into the Queen’s theatre before, but we were quite impressed by it. We were in the Dress circle, and the theatre bar’s setting is very good indeed – with a great view out onto Shaftesbury Avenue. The one thing I would say about the experience surrounding the show is that the interval is too short. We were first out to the bar, we got our drinks and nibbles (which were pre-ordered). We demolished the nibbles, but seemed to have only had a few sips before the ‘show is starting in 3 minutes’ bell started to ring. Obviously, the bar itself is too expensive – but then, that is hardly a surprise.
We saw Alfie Boe in the role of Jean Val Jean, my mum had been raving about Alfie Boe for ages, but we knew not of his work. Crikey, that man has a pair of lungs on him… he was very, very good.
In the role of Thénardier was Matt Lucas (Katy Secombe is the missus). Matt Lucas was astonishingly good (and, if I’m honest, surprisingly), and the Thénardiers worked well together. They seem to have tweaked the comic timing to suit Lucas, and it works very well indeed.
The actor playing Javert (Hadley Fraser?) was simply wonderful, achieving malevolent righteousness throughout.
There was one cast member who, we both thought, was a little too ‘stage school’. They were still very good on the whole, but stood out against the excellence around them.
The child performers did very well, and in particular, the boy who played Gavroche deserves a special mention.
I’ve used a lot of superlatives, and the show deserved them. It’s a piece which has deservedly stood the test of time. It has some complex numbers going on with counterpoints as the characters sing against each other, but it stops short of becoming a jumble of singing as can be so often the case – which contrasts with the vast majority of musicals out there.
This is a show which is worth seeing. Of shows I’ve seen, and are still available, the ranking now:
- Les Misérables
- Jersey Boys (Something special – Foottappingly good music, and a great story)
- Stomp (It’s percussion, with style)
- The Phantom of the Opera (Perhaps a bit cheesy, but still enjoyable)
- Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (Australian camp!)
Whilst I’m listing, let’s do a few more. This isn’t an exhaustive list, for instance, I’ve consciously not included Ballet/Opera as these are productions which tend to have short runs with many different companies.
Shows that aren’t on any more, but I’d love to see again:
- Pedal Pusher (About the Tour de france – a really good show)
- Fiddler on the Roof (Diddle iddle iddle, diddle iddle iddle iddle dum)
- The Blue Man Group (Weird and wonderful, available across most of the planet – but not London anymore?)
- The Three Musketeers (Okay, a ballet, but a particular bit of choreography that blew us away)
- The Rat Pack (Not PC – but then, it’s a mid 20th century show revisited)
Shows that were great to see, and I’d recommend – though it’s out of my system:
- Slava’s Snow Show (Clowns, but in a good way – saw it twice. Spectacular.)
- The Producers (Comedy about the theatre and bad taste)
- The Car Man (Updated Carmen)
Shows I’ve seen, and don’t want to revisit:
- Footloose (A couple of good numbers, but the show itself was underwhelming)
- The Play What I wrote (actually the second half is good)
- Cats (spectacular, but a one time deal)
- Lord of the Rings: The Musical (spectacular, very well done, but in some places it veered into ‘so bad, it’s good’)
- Evita (Meh)
Shows I’d like to see:
- Wicked (I keep hearing good things)
- The Wizard of Oz (and why not?)
- South Pacific (I’ve bought tickets today)
- Blood Brothers (I still know little about this – except that people seem to like it)
- Yes, Prime Minister (witty wordplay)
- The 39 Steps (mystery/comedy)
- The Ladykillers (comedy)
- Cool Hand Luke (closing in Jan) (US chain gangs)
- The Mousetrap (long running)
- Monkey: Journey to the West (if they ever run it for any length of time) (In the worlds before Monkey, primal chaos reigned. Heaven sought order…..)
- Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Not sure why, it just appeals somehow)