Consider this dazzling blurb: “The world’s most popular musical Les Misérables is now playing in Manila for the first time. The blockbuster musical has been seen by over 70 million people worldwide in 44 countries, done in 22 languages and won more than 125 major awards around the world. This breathtaking new production has left both audiences and critics awestruck.”
In truth, I was left “almost” awestruck upon seeing Les Mis at The Theater of the Solaire Resort and Casino in Pasay City. The musical—with the lone Filipino singer turned instant West End star of sort (second only to the “assoluta” Lea Salonga ) Rachelle Ann Go in the role of Fantine—was near perfect. Almost only if Go’s voice did not get a little strained for comfort. To be fair, so was Earl Carpenter’s in the role of Javert (played by Russel Crowe in the film version, remember?)
I’m particularly referring to the third night of their performance in Les Mis in which Go was most luminous in her non-aria scenes, but less so in her solos. And so was Earl.
While it was no major misstep on both actors, the little unsettling snitches of their voices when it required them to reach for the high notes called attention to themselves.
But these things happen. I surmised it must have been due to previous stressful rehearsals that brought with it probably some runny nose in them which made breathing a little bit difficult. Others simply charge it to the usual jitters and anxieties on the first few nights.
For the glowing parts, hands down there were one too many. Bravo!
Actor and singer Simon Glesson’s Jean Valjean was incomparable, walloping a genuine world-class act all throughout. In his most intense scenes, Glesson resembled the proverbial dragon breathing fire in a fit of rage, livid with the most profound, layered emotions possible as he did a deeply soulful paean or lament into his arias so haunting and memorable that even my sheer act of reminiscing them to this day makes my hair stand on end.
Total effects of lighting and sound were so fabulous, if magical sweeping me off my feet that many times I felt I was watching a film like Star Wars or Close Encounter of the Third Kind. The production design in sepia tones was seamless in evoking the atmosphere of revolutionary France in the 19th century. And don’t forget that the scores more than ever were works of true musical geniuses Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg.
In all, the ensemble, for lack of a better term, was impeccable, perfect that I could not help compare Go’s reprise of Fantine with that of Lea Salonga’s who originated it some years ago at West End.
Lea’s most-legendary and difficult-to-top performance as Fantine had become an urban legend even in Broadway.
When Salonga sings and swears on her arias you will in a manner of speaking “die” with her onstage. This was most wanting in the performance of Go on the day I watched her.
That which she will have to strive for so she would not forever pale in comparison with Lea’s own immortal Fantine. Such challenge!
At the risk of sounding one bit colonial and Orientalist, I must say the best thing that ever happened to the local theater scene in so long a time is no doubt West End’s Les Mis in Manila. The production taught us how to do theater at its most innovative, magical, elevating, and absolutely memorable way.
High commendations are in order for producer Cameron Mackintosh who was responsible in bringing the classic musical on our shore and to the two directors Laurence Connor and James Powell who put all things together to perfection to the delight of Manila’s rich “culturati” who would throw money away sinfully like water for such one singular experience.
One wishes a video wall accompanying the live presentation even for one night only is installed in the open air of Solaire’s environs for free to those dying to watch the masterpiece but could not afford its prohibitive cost.
Such wishful thinking for the “les miz” and “revolutionary poor” in this country.