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Les Misérables has been around for a long time, pleasing audiences around the world - its songs are recorded by an vast array of singers and its impact on audiences is justifiably powerful. Though this filming of the concert production of the musical as performed at London's O2 Arena in January 2010 is hailed as the 25th anniversary of the musical, it is too frequently forgotten that the show, based on the Victor Hugo novel, was originally written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil with Herbert Kretzmer and Jean-Marc Natel and produced in Paris, France in 1980 (it closed after 3 months). This English Adaptation is by Trevor Nunn and John Caird (with additional material by James Fenton) was brought to England and the world through the efforts of Cameron Mitchell in 1985.
The concert version is performed with orchestra and chorus in the top of the platforms in O2 Arena and the characters in the musical are in costume standing before microphones at the edge of the performing structure. The light crew performs spectacular effects with the enormous facilities at this 23,000 seat arena. Some action is projected on screens above the performers (the lifting of the cart by Valjean, the barricade, etc) and at other times the screens offer the audience huge close-up view of the performers. It works well under the direction of Nick Morris. The celebration of the birthday of the show is accompanied by prolonged appearances by past members of casts of the show, a light show, and much confetti and self congratulation speeches.
As for the production itself it is populate by a generally strong cast. Alfie Boe, a 37 year old British tenor who studied opera but now sings the big demanding musicals, is a very fine Jean Valjean. Norm Lewis, and American actor/baritone is one of the strongest Jauverts on record: he is a talent to watch. Lea Salonga brings years of experience to her interpretation of Fantine, Samantha Banks is a very strong Eponine, the Iranian-born Canadian musical theater singing actor Ramin Karimloo makes a striking impression in the role of Enjolras (he has been playing the role of Phantom in the 'Phantom of the Opera' in England for years), but the performance of Katie Hall as Cosette sounds strained, the Monsieur Thénardier of Matt Lucas is completely unfocused (Jenny Galloway fares better as Madame Thénardier), and it is obvious the producers elected to play to the young audience by miscasting pop star Nick Jonas as Marius: he tries very hard but is out of his league here.
In all this is an entertaining memento of a birthday celebration - heavy on audience screaming and special party effects - and rewards the creators of this lasting fine musical with due respect.
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