The age-appropriate cast in this staging of the show (as opposed to the 10 year anniversary's dream cast) really struck me. I've seen Les Mis on stage three times, and have owned as many renditions of the soundtrack, and this production never lacks credibility. However, be prepared for Marius to be played by a slightly pained-looking Jonas brother, and Cosette (Katie Hall) to be transformed into a teen bombshell without the nun outfit or stiff hair.
Eponine probably the role I love the most, and judge the harshest is played by up-and-coming Disney darling Samantha Barks. While it must have been nerve-wracking to perform the part with Salonga and Ruffelle backstage, she nails it and ends up a gorgeously tragic 'Ponine. Her "On My Own" will hold its own with the greats, even if she does descend from the high art of the West End into Disney madness in the near future.
Mr. Jonas, though a veteran of both the stage and this show, is obviously out of his league here. If you can get past that, the character is a brilliant reinvention of Michael Ball's sappy-but-honorable Marius. Eponine's misled infatuation offers an insightful parallel into how a teenage girl would probably feel around any of the Jonas Brothers in the here and now.
Without question, however, the most inspired casting surprise of the event was Little Britain's Matt Lucas as the hilariously deplorable Thénardier. Lucas, who was brought in as a one-time performer for the role, will now be portraying Thénardier on the West End this summer. If, like the average Yank, you're unfamiliar with the guy, now is the time to get up to speed. He's bald as Costanza, and a veritable gold mine of inappropriate humor and raw talent.
It goes without saying that Lea Salonga is golden-voiced and heart-wrenching, and the guy the cast to play Enjorlas is a dreamboat. (Why oh why wasn't Eponine hung up on him instead?) Alfie Boe, whom I was previously unfamiliar with, is a perfect Val Jean. He's got the look and the timbre, and manages to not look ridiculous in a stiff collar while singing falsetto.
Opposite him is Norm Lewis as the quintessential Hugo villain, Javert. I really dug the fact that they cast a black man as righteous-to-a-fault Javert. It doesn't matter that there's no way in hell he would've been patrolling the streets of Paris in the early 19th century (or, come to think of it, that Lea Salonga would give birth to a blond child); he's pitch-perfect, and the racial divide apparent when Lewis is on stage gives some modern insight into the chip on Javert's shoulder. (Much like how Jonas' youth and relative green-ness add a new dimension to that part of the show.)
The story is and always will be epic, heartbreaking and beautiful. The real treat for die hard fans comes after the final bow, when the original 1985 cast appears from behind a curtain to provide the encore of all encores. Four original Val Jeans singing "Bring Him Home," Michael Ball showing li'l Jonas how it's done in the recap of "One Day More," and Francis Ruffelle forgetting her pants as she reprises her Eponine (and pointedly refuses to make eye contact with Salonga).
Everything is drawn to a close with producer Cameron Mackintosh making a long-winded speech and a massive audience sing-along of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" By that point, you might be too euphoric to care how self-indulgent it all is. Mackintosh has got you right where he wants you for the little scroll over the screen that alerts the viewer to the fact that Working Title is currently in production with a film version of the musical.
Ultimately, this concert, like the 10-year version and Mackintosh's Hey, Mr. Producer, are the most accessible forms of Broadway-lover's crack. It will only fuel your addiction, but go ahead and indulge.
The opening bars of Les Miserables have made my heart go pitty-pat since the age of 14. There's just something about this play the Goliath of musical theater that gets those of us who go full-nerd for stage musicals right at the throat.
In fact, if I'd known this anniversary concert was happening at London's O2 Arena, I would've thrown financial responsibility to the wolves and booked my happy ass on a flight to England in a heartbeat. Having it on DVD is, I suppose, an acceptable concession for my ignorance.
For the purists out there, you should know going in that this is not the original cast. Colm Wilkinson doesn't make a stage appearance until after the finale, and Lea Salonga is playing Fantine, not Eponine. And if none of that made sense to you, the rest of this review is going to look like alien hieroglyphs.