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Les Misérables The Staged Concert Recording | Review

Les Misérables The Staged Concert Company - Photograph Michael Le Poer Trench.
Les Misérables The Staged Concert Company – Photograph Michael Le Poer Trench.

Don’t we already have cast recordings of Les Misérables? Do we really need another? In my own collection is one of the 25th Anniversary touring production, and one of the 10th Anniversary concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. My personal favourite is the ‘Complete Symphonic’ cast recording released in 1989 and knocking about somewhere is the ‘Original French Concept Album’. Like the 2010 recording, this one is recorded live – and as it is released at a time when many theatres both at home and abroad remain closed, there’s something extra special about hearing audience reactions to the majestic tunes in this show.

Having seen the production in person in October 2019, thirty-four years to the day when the original London production opened at the Barbican (you know, “when hope was high and life worth living”), there are moments when one must deploy rather more suspension of disbelief than usual: the concert format of the show has it so that certain characters will die, only for the actors to turn around and sit back down again on stage – much of the cast is positioned as a choir on a structure that resembles a barricade (quelle surprise) to sing the ensemble roles. The nifty camera work on the DVD makes this less obvious, however. And here’s something that’s really not on the video: I’m sure the pun on the ‘trigger warning’ displayed in the theatre foyer about gunshots wasn’t lost on discerning audiences.

The show has been reduced in running time over the years – the original Barbican run was apparently closer to four hours than three. By the time I first saw the show, at the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, it was down to three hours fifteen minutes. This concert version, if it started bang on time at exactly 7:30pm, would come down just after 10:15pm. While some musical numbers have been cut completely, others have been truncated (though it is sometimes difficult to convince people who have only started attending the theatre more recently that ‘Castle On A Cloud’ used to be longer than it is).

Still, others have merely been sped up – perhaps this is more noticeable for those of us used to listening to older recordings. I welcome the faster pace, however: there’s a greater sense of urgency both in Inspector Javert’s (Michael Ball) continued hunt of Jean Valjean (Alfie Boe, with his trademark powerhouse voice) and in Valjean’s own efforts to (to coin a phrase) stay safe in troubled times. The cast here is very much a ‘cast of casts’, drawing in many actors who have been in the show before in previous seasons, and there is a palpable dedication to the musical theatre craft, however big or small a part they play. Earl Carpenter’s Bishop of Digne, for instance, is both compassionate and assertive, while the Thénardier couple are played with some gusto by Matt Lucas and Katy Secombe.

There have been a number of cast recordings ‘recorded live’ in recent years, and production teams have clearly been able to build on previous experiences to provide the best recording experience possible. The sound quality is crystal clear, and where liner notes may once have apologised for the occasional cough or momentary sound imbalance that simply couldn’t be ironed out, there’s nothing of that kind to overlook or forgive here. Alfonso Casado Trigo conducts a commendably-sized orchestra of twenty-six: the concert format is perfect for those who like to see orchestras in action.

I wasn’t keen, to be frank, on the riffs in Shan Ako’s take on ‘On My Own’, though I fully appreciate this is a matter of personal taste. Rob Houchen’s Marius, meanwhile, has an air of confidence and bravado sometimes missing from that role (and what a voice!), and Bradley Jaden’s Enjolras is a galvanising and energising delight. If you’re purchasing the DVD, it’s worth watching to the very end, as the concert’s encore includes some extra treats, including speeches from producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh and composer Claude-Michel Schönberg.

As ever, it’s heavy-going stuff, but these are musical numbers that soar to the sky. To answer the questions I started with – well, the CD and DVD are worthy additions to your musical theatre recording collections.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Sondheim Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6BA
5 December 2020 – 17 January 2021


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