REVIEW: Les Misérables (Savoyards Musical Theatre Brisbane)

Photographed by Michelle Thomas, Christopher Thomas Photography
Where? Iona Performing Arts Centre, Lindum.
When? June 23 – July 7

Brisbane’s oldest continuously running musical theatre company, Savoyards, present the epic and uplifting musical theatre classic Les Misérables at the Iona Performing Arts Centre this June-July, directed by Robbie Parkin and with Geoffrey Secomb as Musical Director.

Winner of over 100 international awards and seen by over 65 million people worldwide, the musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel needs little introduction. In nineteenth century France, Jean Valjean is released from 19 years of unjust imprisonment, but finds nothing in store for him but mistrust and mistreatment. He breaks his parole with hopes of starting a new life, initiating a lifelong struggle for redemption as he is relentlessly pursued by police inspector Javert. Set against the backdrop of the bloody Paris student uprising of 1832, Les Misérables powerfully emotional affirmation of the human spirit has made it a popular masterpiece.

The cast of the Savoyards productions features Brisbane community theatre performers alongside actors with performance credits including the Australian Opera, and the live orchestra does a stellar job of performing the iconic score.

A few minor technical and sound issues occurred throughout, with some microphone static and the swelling music from the orchestra pit occasionally overpowering even the strongest voices onstage. One of the students also appeared to not have a microphone, despite having several lines to deliver – he did an admirable job without it but I doubt he could be heard from the back of the auditorium.

Photographed by Michelle Thomas, Christopher Thomas Photography

Choreography by Gabrielle Parkin was enjoyable to watch, especially the jaunty Thenardier and waltzing at the wedding of Cosette and Marius, and the crowd scene choreography was simple but effective. A wide variety of costumes were used, from prison rags and Javert’s police uniform to high society ball gowns and the Thenardiers’ hodgepodge outfits.

The multi-tiered set designed by Raymond Milner served all purposes seamlessly, from the chain gangs to the barricade and the pub, slums, factory, sewers…clever lighting (Allan Nutley) and sound design (David Sowdon and David Longton) played a vital role in transforming these spaces between scenes.

Christopher Thomas as Javert and Shannon Foley as Jean Valjean, photographed by Mark Duffus

There is a fantastic tension between Jean Valjean (Shannon Foley) and Javert (Christopher Thomas), and their individual ideas of righteousness, which stays steady throughout the performance. The role of Jean Valjean allows Foley to showcase his impressive vocal range, and both men bring a sense of urgency and authentic emotion to their roles.

Warryn James and Julie Eisentrager are hilarious as Monsieur and Madame Thenardier – Master of the House is one of the few comical songs in the musical and they certainly do it justice. The large ensemble is also used to create the perfect rowdy tavern crowd in this scene.

Julie Eisentrager and Warryn James as the Thenardiers

Travis Holmes steals the spotlight a few times with his powerful vocals and conviction in the role of Enjolras. Some of the performers are quite young but hold their own amongst the more experienced – Elijah Fern has a strong stage presence as the street-wise Gavroche, and Caliese McEachern’s clear singing voice is lovely in her role as Young Cosette, a role she shares in this production with Giselle Roe.

Matthew Geaney as Marius and Belinda Burton as Cosette, photographed by Mark Duffus

Belinda Burton (Cosette) and Matthew Geaney (Marius) sing well together, and I found the way that Geaney holds himself and delivers his performance to be a far more convincing and thoughtful characterisation of Marius than Eddie Redmayne’s version of the character in the 2012 film (my only point of comparison, as Savoyards’ production was my first time seeing Les Mis onstage). Erika Nadai is self-assured, passionate, and believable in the role of Eponine, and sings with a clear and powerful voice – her rendition of On My Own is stunning – and Sarah Copley delivers a deeply affecting performance as Fantine, including her beautiful performance of one of the musical’s most recognisable songs, I Dreamed A Dream.

Sarah Copley as Fantine and Giselle Roe as Young Cosette, photographed by Mark Duffus

Although appearing in only a few early scenes, James Riley gives a memorable performance as the gentle and kind-hearted Bishop of Digne. The ensemble of this production is very impressive, keeping good time and pace with one another despite their large numbers, with natural and believable acting. The harmony of their voices in songs like At the End of the Day and One Day More will give you goosebumps.

Savoyard’s Les Misérables is an emotionally charged performance (don’t forget to pack your tissues), and an impressive display of the talent Brisbane’s community theatre performers. Tickets range from $28-$50 and are selling fast, with several shows already sold out. For more information, or to book your tickets, visit Savoyards’ website.

Cast of Savoyards' Les Misérables, photographed by Michelle Thomas, Christopher Thomas Photography