I grew up with a little Les Mis in my life thanks to my mom who’s a long-time fan of the live show. In fact, her and I saw the Hugh Jackman & Anne Hathaway film together on the big screen last year, but even with the adaptation’s unique approach in having actors perform live on set, it doesn’t quite compare to seeing the actual production live.
A long trek to and from the Princess of Wales Theatre in downtown Toronto through the area’s first real snowfall of the year was made worth it for Cameron Mackintosh’s slightly updated take on Les Miserables which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The production just got a six-week extension in Toronto as it continues to earn critical acclaim and sold out shows. Tonight we discovered why.
The production isn’t much different than it was years ago. If you’ve seen the movie, the aesthetic, set designs and costumes are shockingly similar. It’s not a bad thing, and it actually helped having the movie relatively fresh in mind to better understand the faster-paced and more dynamic live show.
For this evening’s performance, local leading man Ramin Karimloo wasn’t playing Jean Valjean, instead replaced by understudy Aaron Walpole, a Canadian Idol finalist from London, Ontario. Walpole, a heavier set man, doesn’t look like your traditional prisoner-becomes-noble Valjean, but his voice and performance spoke for itself as the commanding lead.
The themes and plot of Les Mis are inherently depressing but Thénardier and Mme Thénardier earned big laughs from the enthusiastic audience to break up the tension and emotional fatigue. Big applauses for the rest of the cast, notably Earl Carpenter’s Javert, helped keep the show lively as well.
The set designs, ensemble performances, vocal talents and interesting use of backgrounds help make Les Mis worthy of a return trip to Victor Hugo’s take on 1800s France.