On January 2020, in London, the new production of the musical Les Misérables (aka #LesMiz) has indefinitely taken the place of the original one. A “confrontation” of the two to find our personal favourite (part 2)
In the first part of this article, we started an exciting (for me) confrontation between the original production of the musical Les Misérables, that inspired audiences for almost 40 years, and the new one that is currently on stage at the Sondheim Theatre (ex-Queen’s Theatre) in London.
The first four aspects we selected made us reach a first partial result:
An even score that in this second part is going to change dramatically because of the journey we are going to take through other four selected moments.
Les Miz 1.0 vs Les Miz 2.0: the confrontation (aka "here we go again")
A heart full of love... one day more
I cannot say much about this point without spoiling the conclusions, but let’s just say that what happens on stage when Marius, Cosette and Eponine sing A Heart Full of Love is seriously… mesmerizing.
The new production could not have found a better way to visually convey the scene (both the romantic part shared by new lovers Marius and Cosette and the heartbreaking response of Eponine to her unrequieted love for Marius). It is poetic, beautiful, awe-inspiring, but, I have to say, just one of the examples of what Les Miz 2.0 is able to show on stage.
The iconic One Day More scene is another one. A smart play with lights and with the set, and there you have it: the most believable One Day More ensemble scene I’ve seen, possibly even “more believable” than the movie one.
And now comes the (first) hard part. After reading comments on Tumblr about the new production, I knew what I was going to face, but it did not help.
For those of you who have not seen the original show: Enjolras’ death is probably the most touching, heartbreaking moment you will ever find on a stage, a stroke of genious for the way it was presented, so powerful that nothing at the time could have prepared me for it.
The barricade there, in front of you, tall and beautiful, ligthed up by cannon shots. The barricade boys dying in slow motion, one after the other, while the powerful music makes your soul tremble. You know Enjolars has just been shot but you cannot see him because he fell on the other side of the barricade. But then the moving stage turns around and the climax of the music comes exactly in the moment in which you see his body lying down on the barricade, the red flag of freedom in his hand.
The new production, while recreating a whole neighbourhood as set for the scene, is offering very little in terms of emotions. Believe me: a small cart in an empty road with an Enjolras dead on it does not even remotely compare to what we had before, despite the still powerful music. Definitely my biggest disappointment.
I have to say that, at least for me, something saved this scene from partial disaster: Javert arriving, noticing Enjolras body, slowing down, then seeing little Gavroche on the floor, dead.
Javert goes to him, kneels down, closes Gavroche’s dead eyes and prays for him.
A scene that was superb in the movie and that I was incredibly glad they added it in the new production of the musical (check this beautiful fanart here)
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, the song that Marius sings to remember all his dead friends, is one of the most beautiful songs of Les Miz (here sung by the amazing Michael Ball during the 10th years Anniversary of the musical).
The new production presents it to the audience in a very poetic way, with candles on the floor, Marius in the middle and all his dead friends around him, slowly walking away.
Despite its beauty, though, this scene does not reach the height touched by the original production. There, Marius was alone on the scene but in the background you could see the shapes of his friends appearing, all in line one next to the other, like ghosts… and boy if it took your breath away. A powerful choice, that one, that I wish the new production had stuck with.
I know, I know, we’re talking about Javert for the thousandth time.
It’s not my fault Victor Hugo created such a (loveable) sarcastic character, that Russell Crowe is the one who plays him in the 2012 movie and that Bradley Jaden does an amazing job with this role (and I’ve seen him doing it in both productions).
That’s possibly why his suicide (sorry for the spoiler, guys, but the book has almost 160 years, so I feel justified) is a scene that needs to be done with care.
The original production makes a very interesting choice to recreate his fall into the Seine: the bridge where he’s perched goes up, creating the effect of a fall, and the lights make the moving stage look like the roaring waters of the river where the character disappears. A scene that, in its semplicity, was incredibly effective.
In the new production, we have more effects, sure but… do you remember the scene from Star Wars: The Last Jedi where Leia flies like Superman? …Well, that’s more or less the effect you get now… and yes, it’d be funny if it was not such a sad moment.
Without any doubt, the original production wins the day.
The new production is amazing and the first act is possibly better in the new production than in the original one. That because the cinematography of Les Miz 2.0 is absolutely breathtaking. The show looks like a movie, not a theatrical play, but with that sense of presence that movies cannot physically reach. It literally leaves you gaping in shock: your mind is blown away by how beautiful everything looks and, even more than that, by how “real” everything feels. Just to mention an example, when Jean Valjean leaves the galley and starts the journey that will take him to Montreuil Sur Mer, he walks through different places… forests, fields, towns… and the fact is that it really looks like he does it, in the new production..
The problems start with the second act. Mind you, if you have not seen the original version, you won’t be disappointed. It’s still strong and the plot and music are – obviously – splendid.
And yet, the emotional force of the original production is almost completely lost in this second act. The cinematography is still beautiful, but not enough anymore. You’re looking for those devastating feelings that the original production made you feel. Unfortunately, there is very little power in the new scenes, but for the one that comes from the music itself.
I will certainly rewatch this new production because, you now, it’s still Les Miz and it’ll be love forever, but I cannot help hoping that one beautiful day Cameron Mackintosh (producer of Les Miz) will offer us a recorded version of the orginal musical so to have the chance to breath in its beauty once again.
To Les Miz, though: one day more, always, and may these days be many.