Category Archives: Les Misérables

Some shows are better, bigger (Guest Post)

Today’s post is written by guest blogger, Rebecca Coleman.  To view Musicals in Vancouver’s response, check out our guest post at the Art of the Business blog

I love independent theatre. It’s where I live, it’s where my heart is, and it’s where I make my living.

But I also love theatre in general, and, while I tend to hang out in the indie scene, I’ll go see pretty much anything going.

A few months back, I went to see Les Misérables at The Arts Club, and a couple of weeks ago, Rent at Presentation House.

First, you have to understand that these two musicals hold significant sentimental value for me. Les Miz was my favorite musical for a long, long time, and it was only replaced in my heart when Rent came along. I knew all the words in Les Miz, and used to daydream about being Éponine, even learning “On My Own” for auditions. I saw a touring version of it, about 10 years ago at the Q.E., and was blown away by the spectacle.

Then, in 1996, while watching the Tonys, I saw the original Broadway cast of Rent singing “Seasons of Love” and “La Vie Bohème,” and I was instantly smitten. I’ve now seen Rent four times, including once at the Nederlander Theatre in New York, where it ran for 12 years.

The Nederlander Theatre in New York City

The Nederlander Theatre in NYC.

So, I’m pretty familiar with both of those shows. So, seeing them done in a smaller theatre, on a smaller scale, was a very interesting experience.

And I felt like they were missing something. Don’t get me wrong—both productions were excellent—big hearted, beautifully sung, and with strong production values. But because of money and size of venue, some of the big special effects were cut.

It makes a huge visual impact to see the barricade in Les Mis slowly rotating into view, strewn with dead bodies. The Arts Club production did have a barricade, and it did move, but with more of a pulling-out-a-drawer motion. The impression it made was not as strong. Similarly, Javert’s suicide was not as impactful (sorry about that choice of words).

I had a similar experience seeing Rent. I missed Mimi howling “Out Tonight” as she straddles both staircase railings and slides down, and Joanne’s first arrival on a motorcycle.

Maybe it’s just my sentimentality speaking, but maybe some things are better, bigger.

Now, anyone know of a production of Miss Saigon happening? I got a hankering to see a helicopter land on stage…

Rebecca Coleman is a freelance theatre publicist here in Vancouver. Her roster includes Touchstone Theatre, Ruby Slippers, Radix, Leaky Heaven Circus, Presentation House, Capilano University’s Theatre Department, and Itsazoo. In addition, she does social media training, and has published an e-book on the topic titled Getting Started with Social Networking for Artists and Arts Organizations. Her blog is The Art of the Business.

Rebecca Coleman

Rebecca Coleman

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Weekend To-See List (Aug 7-9 2009)

Yesterday was the 104th and final performance of Les Misérables at the Stanley Industrial Theatre (read about it at the Arts Club Blog).  Breaking the 100 performance mark is a huge deal for a local show and the Arts Club is definitely celebrating.

But, the summer Vancouver musical theatre is far from over, and here are my top two picks for this weekend.

1. RentThe Fighting Chance production opened last night and has already announced a week long extension.  My review of the show isn’t up yet, but clearly I liked it since I’ve put it at the top of my weekend to-see list. Playing at Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver, Rent tickets are available online.

umbrellas-of-cherbourg

2. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is playing on the big screen this weekend.  The 1963 classic French sung-through movie starring Catherine Deneuve is a cinematic spectacle and a must-see for musical aficionados. Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street Aug 7-9; 6:30 Fri; 8:30 Sat, Sun.

Altar Boyz held over four more weeks; Les Misérables also extends four more shows.

I’m a huge fan of both Arts Club shows that  I’ve reviewed this summer.   Altar Boyz is a pop-heavy 90 minutes of non-stop laughs and fun and while the story of  Les Misérables is  dark and tragic, the individual and ensemble performances are excellent.  I’ve been urging you to catch them both before they close, and now there’s some good news for those who still haven’t had the chance.

actlogos

This summer’s Arts Club shows have been bringing in the crowds by the droves, and just last month Les Misérables at the Stanley Industrial Alliance was given a two-week extension until August 2nd to help accommodate their record-breaking sales.

Now the Altar Boyz, playing on the Granville Island Stage, are following suit with their own four-week holdover.  The Altar Boyz will now run until Saturday, August 29th.

Not to be outdone, Les Misérables has added another four performances to their already lengthened run.  The new additions are as follows:

Tuesday, August 4           7:30 pm

Wednesday, August 5    2 & 8 pm

Thursday, August 6         8 pm

The newly announced batch of tickets goes on sale at 10 am, Thursday, July 16th and can be purchased online or by by phone at 604-687-1644.

Les Misérables (Review)

I saw Les Misérables at the Stanley last night for a second time, and here is my review as promised.  But before that, I’d like to begin with a brief disclaimer.

I know a lot of people will vehemently disagree, but I’ll start off by saying that I’m not a huge Les Mis fan.  It doesn’t rank among my favourite musicals, and I take issue with what I consider to be some major faults (which I’ll address).   But, I also recognise that much of my animosity/indifference towards Les Misérables is due to its unwavering popularity and not because it’s actually a terrible show.

That being said, the Arts Club production of Les Misérables is not to be missed.  The Arts Club rarely disappoints, and as I’ve written before, this past season has been full of some great shows.  I’ve seen the touring version of Les Mis several times, and this one blows them all out of the water.

There isn’t a weak link to be found in this cast.  Kieran Martin Murphy (Jean Valjean) and Réjean Cournoyer (Javert) are credibly locked in a life-long battle of wills and neither wavers in their resolve.  Murphy’s plaintive “Bring Him Home” is a veritable font of emotion.

Rejean Cournoyer in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Misérables. Photo by David Cooper.

Réjean Cournoyer in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Misérables. Photo by David Cooper.

Les Mis may have some definitive lead roles in Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, but it isn’t stingy with the spotlight and gives multiple performers the chance to be showcased.  Les Misérables doesn’t have one signature song; it has a half dozen or more.

Sara-Jeanne Hosie takes on the double-edged role of Fantine, unenviable only in the inevitable comparisons between hers and YouTube sensation Susan Boyle’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.”  Thankfully, Hosie’s performance is all her own and makes Boyle’s a distant memory.

Jonathan Winsby’s voice in “Do You Hear the People Sing” and “Red and Black” is in its usual powerful form and  believably communicates his character Enjolras’ charismatic convictions needed to lead the revolution.

The real revelation came to me in the beautiful singing of Rebecca Talbot’s Éponine.  During her first speaking lines I was apprehensive about her slightly rough-sounding voice.  Those concerns were completely allayed when she began to sing.  Talbot’s “On My Own” was emotional, heart-wrenching, and completely crush-worthy.

Jeffrey Victor as Marius and Kaylee Hardwood as Cosette make up the final two points with Éponine in the requisite love-triangle.  But I found myself siding with the doomed Éponine, all the more so in her dying duet with Marius “A Little Fall of Rain.”

John Mann and Nicola Lipman as the villainous Thénardiers add some much needed levity, albeit black humour, to the otherwise unending tragedies and deaths that befall almost every major character in the play.  Mann is deliciously ghoulish and Lipman is more than his match in every way.  What Lipman lacks in vocal skills, she more than makes up for with strong acting and a razor-sharp delivery.

Nicola Lipman and John Mann in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of  Les Misérables. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Nicola Lipman and John Mann in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Misérables. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Les Misérables was adapted into musical form from Victor Hugo’s classic French novel of the same name and has been translated into English at various time as The Miserable Ones, The Wretched, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, and The Victims.  I’m partial to The Wretched myself.

All kidding aside, Les Misérables does have a beautiful score and multiple deservedly memorable songs, which count in its favour.  On the other hand the book is long, unwieldy, short on character development, and attempts to cram far too many characters and events into one show.  The end result can be hard to follow and it’s easy to miss plot points or details that explain character histories or motivations.  The poor character development along with the über-tragic storyline makes for many missed opportunities to really flesh out some of the emotions and stories behind the show.

None of this applies to those of who have seen the show multiple times and who have probably had more than a few listens to any of the cast albums, but I wisely advise any Les Mis virgins to read the synopsis while waiting for the show to start so as not to be left confused halfway through.

My only other complaint is the small orchestra.  I understand that it’s both an economic and a logistical problem, but the epic scale of Alain Boublil’s and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s music and lyrics really does require a full scale orchestra to do it justice.  Even so, Musical Director Bruce Kellett has done a great job of making the most of the six-man pit.

The Arts Club production of Les Misérables directed by Bill Millerd is the best I’ve seen and if you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it enough.  Despite my criticisms, I’ve seen it twice and I’m likely to catch it once more before it closes on August 2nd.

Les Misérables runs through August 2nd at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville Street).

Arts Club Update: Les Mis & Altar Boyz

Last week, the Arts Club announced a two-week extension to their run of Les Misérables, now ending August 2nd.

According to the Arts Club blog, it is now the highest-selling production in their 46 year history, even besting perennial favourite and previous record-holder Beauty and the Beast.

  	 Jeffrey Victor in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Misérables. Photo by David Cooper.

Jeffrey Victor in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Misérables. Photo by David Cooper.

I hadn’t planned on reviewing Les Misérables for Musicals in Vancouver, largely because it opened a month before this blog even started. That’s not to say that I haven’t seen it, nor to say that I don’t harbour any strong opinions about this production or about Les Mis in general.

I’m hoping to take in another performance between now and early next week, for two reasons.  (1) I saw it in previews, and (2) I didn’t take notes and my memory isn’t what it used to be.  Scratch that, make it three reasons. (3) I’m happy for the excuse to catch Les Misérables again.

It’s also on my to-do list to catch Altar Boyz again, outside of previews.  The first time was near-perfect, and I’m anxious to see the differences a week can make.  I should have reviews and updates on both shows up by next week.  Until then, if you haven’t seen Les Mis or Altar Boyz, get your tickets fast.  You really can’t go wrong with either show.

Altar Boyz plays until August 1st at the Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston Street).

Les Misérables runs through August 2nd at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville Street).