Okay, I’m back from the last matinee performance, and it was absolutely amazing! Definitely one of the best, if not the best, performances of les Mis (or of anything) that I’ve seen, and I’m talking in terms of acting, singing, and general emotion, never mind all the muck ups they did. There were so many! More than I’ve seen any of the other casts do!
I do (did…
) love this cast, and maybe that explains why I was weeping so much. All. The. Way. Through. As in, the show started: “look down, look down…” *me weeps*
I’m really glad that both Earl Carpenter and David Shannon are staying, they’re performances were generally amazing today, although they didn’t muck around at all. The first muck up did come in the prologue however; you know in the inn scene, where the innkeeper’s wife sings “my rooms are full, and I’ve no supper to spare…”? She sung that line in a totally obvious French accent which was hilarious, especially when her husband went on in cockney. Later on, when Valjean is arrested and the Bishop pardons him, the entire ensemble filled that silence after “that is right” with a melodramatic gasp. I haven’t heard that since the 2006 cast change.
Let me just say that David Shannon has improved his performance so much since he began. I really wasn’t keen on him at first, but in May I decided he was very good, and today he was amazing!
‘At the End of the Day’ was fantastic, even though I spent the entire song laughing because Leanne Dobinson was doing her bit with the ensemble with half of her teeth blacked out! Hmmm.
Allyson Brown didn’t play any tricks during her performance, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t stun me – I loved her performance! I don’t know if she’d been holding back the entire year or what, but she sang ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ beautifully, and was more emotional than I’d ever seen her!
‘Lovely Ladies’ was as over the top as most cast change performances are of that song, and I noticed that the pimp was standing on a chair in the nest of ladies the entire song doing weird wavy/conducting movements with his arms. Leanne still had her teeth blacked out as well, and it was amusing to watch the ensemble guys who are usually blocked to take her off to the wings during the song back away from her as she smiled at them.
‘Fantine’s Arrest’ was great, with Fantine spitting more than ever at Valjean and me weeping the entire way through. All the next few songs following this were wonderful (even Runaway Cart – did I mention I’ll miss this cast?) although they were all played 'straight'. I’ve never seen Fantine so ill during ‘Come To Me’, and some of the lines were cut off by coughing. Even more than usual, I melted when Little Cosette appeared; she really was the logo Cosette made flesh, never mind that she really couldn’t sing…
‘Master of the House’ is always chaos, and even more so on cast change matinees. The understudy Thenardier, Greg Castiglioni, was on, but I actually think I preferred him to Jimmy Johnston; he was creepier and more Thenardier-like somehow… As usual though, Jackie Marks made a great effort to take over the song, talking over Thenardier’s verses and moving to normal time when everyone else is in slow motion (good for her) but I’ve forgiven her because this was her second last performance… was it? How can we still not know who the new Madame T is?! She was really molesting all the male members of her cast during this, and I also noticed quite a little hilarious mini scene going on during the song, between 3 of the male members of the ensemble: They all gathered round the table at the front, one of them put his top hat on the table, another mimed throwing up into it, the third started stirring the contents with a spoon, and then as the turntable was spinning them away at the end of the song he mimed/tried feeding it to another of the cast members… Really, I don’t know what to make of that
‘Waltz of Treachery’ was hilarious as always, and at one point Thenardier pushed his Madame between him and Valjean, as if as a shield. I forgot to mention before that he also had very very fake wrinkles drawn onto his face. As in, the black lines that a six year old might draw with a black felt-tip pen to try to look old.
I realise that all I’m doing in this review is gush, but ‘Look Down’ was amazing! One of the ensemble members had drawn bright red spots all over their face and another was stumbling about blindfolded. Montparnasse was up to his usual Montparnasse-like antics, only more so (for the record, he said at the stage door that he’s read the book, “catlike” was his description of the character. I told him that he was exactly like book-Montaparnasse and that he had many fans, he seemed pleased and surprised).
I loved ‘The Robbery’. Someone mentioned on another thread that Eponine should have a black eye. Well Nancy Sullivan did, and Thenardier threw her about a little at the start of the scene, so it was quite obvious she was abused by him (to those who were looking I guess). Nancy Sullivan really has perfected her Eponine; before I was slightly disappointed that she was staying as I felt I was ready to see a new person in the role, but I completely take that back now, as she is so much like book Eponine! She managed to seem half crazed and infatuated with Marius in a bitter, confused and street-rat way. Also, when she was crying “It’s Javeeeeeeert!”, Madame Thenardier cried out also and ran about like a headless chicken until she crashed into Thenardier and then fell to the ground with him.
The other muck up during the Robbery has to be my favourite of the whole performance, even though I should probably be appalled. I said before that Leanne Dobinson had blackened out most of her teeth for her ensemble parts in ‘At The End of the Day’ and ‘Lovely Ladies’… well when Cosette came on all beautiful and ready for a cute little conjunction with Marius, she was still very much toothless! It was most noticeable when Javert was standing centre-stage and she was making googly eyes with Marius, and she smiled at him… I could have died laughing.
‘Stars’ was amazing, as was ‘Eponine’s Errand’ and ‘Red and Black’. During the latter number, I swear that David Thaxton was even more mindblowingly fantastic than normal, maybe it was just because the understudy was on the last time I saw the show. One thing in ‘Red and Black’ was that, when Grantaire was making his agog and aghast speech, he pronounced the ‘Juan’ in Don Juan in a Spanish accent, like ‘Chuan’ (as in Chanukah). ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ was also great, and thankfully Cosette’s teeth were back to normal during ‘In My Life’. I don’t think I’d have forgiven Leanne if they hadn’t been. But a couple months ago at the stage door she’d been telling me how she kept trying to liven up Cosette’s character and that she’d been told to ‘reign it in’, well it seemed like this time she just went all out and this was the most animated Cosette performance that I’ve seen. Adorable, and her voice was beautiful as always. I think she was singing out more that normal, as I really couldn’t hear Marius’ part over hers during the last note of ‘A Heart Full of Love’.
This cast seemed to like accents, as the first line of ‘Attack on Rue Plumet’ was done in a way overthetop French accent, and Montparnasse was prancing around more than ever, holding his knife right up to Eponine’s neck near the end of it (*squee*). Nancy Sullivan also growled her way through one or two of her lines in this scene, acting tougher than ever even as she was being thrown about by Thenardier. Additionally, after her scream, Claquesous ran across the stage with a very melodramatic “aaaahhh” (a little out of character but never mind). ‘One Day More’ was especially emotional, with a couple long kisses between ensemble members during Enjolras’ lines.
There were fewer odd things done during the Second Act, which is probably a good thing now that I think about it. The ensemble member (can’t remember which character sings it) who sang “now the people will fight!” put up the last two words a few notes for no apparent reason but maybe to make it more dramatic in a way that didn’t honestly work. ‘On My Own’ was the best I’ve seen from Nancy, I didn’t sense any trace of a teenager moaning about an unrequited crush there. ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ was also possibly the most believable death I’ve ever seen, she looked ready to die then and there when she just got over the barricades, and I actually believed that she couldn’t stand any more. Something which Jon Robyns did afterwards that made me want to squee and groan at the same time was that he put Eponine’s hat on after her death, and kept in on throughout the whole rest of the barricades.
All the barricade scenes were fantastic, although the Enjolras/Grantaire action wasn’t quite as active as I’d have liked. Oh well, can’t always have it perfect. It did amuse me though, that when Marius volunteered to co fetch ammunition, he and Enjolras engaged in a sort of wrestle… basically David Thaxton almost knocked Marius to the ground twice in his attempt to stop him going over the top, and appeared to be in the process of trying to strangle him until they realised where Gavroche was. For the record, no-one laughed at Gavroche’s death. Throughout the different fights, I did notice how coordinated the ensemble was, all falling back or off the barricades during one particularly loud explosion and all crying “Yes!” after the “They’re retreating!” after the First battle. The Last Battle saw David Thaxton jump from almost the top of the barricades, and hug Grantaire, all after doing the best “until the earth IS FREEEE!!!” I’ve ever heard. He was on fire through the whole show.
I really liked Greg Castiglioni’s ‘Dog Eats Dog’! It wasn’t quite as creepy as some I’ve seen, but still very sinister, and he ended the song amazingly, singing a long and loud “the harvest moon shines doooowwn” before suddenly cutting it off, which left a terrifying moment of silence before the orchestra began the next bit of music, if that makes any sense at all. ‘Javert’s Suicide’ also got a well deserved round of applause afterwards – a sign of a good performance.
‘Empty Chairs’ was generally better than other performances I’ve seen Jon Robyns give, except… he changed the notes near the end! I know there are stories of lyrics being changed by members of other casts, but somehow changing notes seems more blasphemous! And during the last big emotional ballad, I was definitely not expecting any changes. He took the words “my friends don’t ask me” in the last verse up a note or two, and then reversed the notes in the last two words “no more”. It worked, but not as well as the original song… at least at the stage door I think Jon Robyns seemed aware that it wasn’t quite what the song needed…
I made sure that ‘Every Day’ received a nice clap at the end, and ‘Beggars at the Feast’ was fun, although not too OTT. Madame T sort of fell over backwards in a bigger way than how she normally does it when she first came on with Thenardier and random ensemble members were whooping their way through it.
The Epilogue was beautiful and emotional. How it should be. And it goes without saying that the whole audience gave the cast a standing ovation at the end (apart from three or four people all next to each other but we don’t need to remember them). The cast performed their hearts out, while making a number of hilarious additions to the show, and wow I’m going to miss them.