A flurry of action in the first few minutes and the scene is set.
You have a vested interest in the protagonist on sight. You feel annoyance at those who reject him. You pity and understand him. You want him to succeed. You’re all in – and the play hasn’t even really begun yet.
Skillfully adapted for the stage, this hauntingly enchanting story by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, follows an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, who is released after nineteen years in a French prison, and becomes a businessman and devout humanitarian.
Les Mis – particularly the updated screening at Dubai Opera – vanquishes any doubt that musicals are tacky. With beguiling tunes, the soul of the narrative comes alive. Your heart goes out to each character.
The solo performances are the highlight, gracefully choreographed and boldly performed.
My lower lip quivered as I witnessed Valjean, played by the brilliant John Owen Jones, kick off on a touching note with ‘What Have I Done?’
I felt the sting of unrequited love as Eponine, played by the wonderful Carrie Hope Fletcher, heartbreakingly delivers ‘A Heart Full of Love’ across the stage from Marius and Cosette.
I was mesmerized [yes, mesmerized] by Javert, played by Hayden Tee, tumbling to his dramatic and memorable death.
In Act two, it becomes near impossible to take sides. You feel Javert’s dilemma, Valjean’s reason for running and the impassioned point of view of the young student revolutionaries.
All of this happens in split seconds. One moment, you’re looking into Cosette’s balcony and the revolutionaries’ café and the next; you’re in a pub or on a street bursting with deprived masses.
With captivating art and digital illustrations, convincing props and costumes, a sprinkling of special effects and seamless transitions, it’s like watching artful scenes from the window of a car as you slowly drive by.
Conveying a complex story with subplots, over 2,700 pages are compressed into a jam-packed three hours.
Hugo’s story reveals some timeless truths about the desperation of poverty, the complexity of law and morality, and the life-altering power of compassion.
Nudging at human truths, it’s no wonder that Les Mis has found success all over the world – translated into 22 languages and performed in 44 countries. It has become an unstoppable force that knows no geographical, intellectual or linguistic boundaries.
At the end of the day, this is a great play, stirring social commentary in a hugely entertaining package. It’ll stay with you.
I still can’t get ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ out of my head.
Les Miserables plays at Dubai Opera until December 2, 2016. Tickets start AED 275 – Buy them here.
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