Les Misérables – 2024

We Hear the People Sing One Day More

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

I just did a count – this marks the 10th time I have seen Les Mis. It is a brilliantly epic musical, with rousing anthems and heart-wrenching ballads. And if you’ve never seen it, you MUST. It’s on stage at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto until June 1.

But I assume if you are reading this you are already a musical theatre fan and you have seen the show. If you haven’t seen it, you can read my synopsis as it will help in following the plot which is entirely sung. Either way, no spoiler alert is necessary:

Les Mis is the musical version of Victor Hugo’s classic story. For the stage, we are first told the back story: Jean Valjean is caught stealing bread for his hungry sister and her children and is given 19 years of hard labour. When he gets out of jail, he is shown compassion by a priest and decides to live a better life. But to do that, he has to escape the relentless and revengeful Police Inspector Javert who wants to throw him back in jail. So Valjean lives under an assumed name, hides his past conviction, and becomes a successful businessman and benevolent mayor of a French town. When Fantine, one of his employees dies, he promises to raise her daughter. He saves little Cosette from the Thenardiers: a cruel couple who have been paid by Fantine to look after little Cosette. They have abused her, while spoiling their own little daughter Eponine.

Circumstances force Valjean to reveal his true identity to save an innocent man, who is mistaken for him, from going to prison. So Valjean and his adopted daughter Cosette are on the run from Javert and move to Paris. Years go by, and although it’s long past the French Revolution, there is still unrest among students, and they take to the streets. Eponine is now a street kid, in love with a student named Marius, but he in turn is in love with Cosette. Valjean goes to the barricade to fight with the students, and saves Marius’ life when he learns that Marius and Cosette are in love. Sadly, Eponine dies in the battle, while her parents are out looting. Eventually Cosette and Marius marry, and knowing that the young couple will be happy together, Valjean dies, surrounded by the spirits of those who loved him.

This American touring cast starts uncomfortably. In Act I they have a penchant for shouting lyrics hurriedly rather than actually singing. It’s as if they think that high volume is preferable to actual melody. But the company redeems themselves by the end of Act I with a rousing rendition of “One Day More”.

Then Act II is nearer to perfection. Eponine’s (Mya Rena Hunter)“On My Own” is heart-felt, while the students and company singing “Drink With Me” is so poignant, especially when the audience knows what’s coming. The 11:00 o’clock number, Valjean’s (Nick Cartell) prayer “Bring Him Home” is beautifully presented. Marius’s (Jake David Smith)“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is beautifully sung. A special shout out to the Thénardiers (Victoria Huston-Elem and Matt Crowle) who provide hilarious comic relief both in their pub and at the wedding reception.

This is the same production (same producer and directors) that was presented by Mirvish with a Canadian cast in 2013-14. Please indulge me as I delight in the memory. I have to say that I enjoyed that production more, simply because it is so wonderful to see our own stars on stage. And frankly, they were superior. Ramin Karimloo was an excellent Valjean (He went on to Broadway in the role) and former Canadian Idol Melissa O’Neil (now starring as Lucy Chen on TV’s The Rookie) was perfect as Eponine. Lisa Horner in the humourous role of Mme. Thenardier, along with Cliff Saunders as M. Thenardier, were brilliantly funny. Mark Urhe sang an unforgettable rendition of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” as Enjolras, and Earl Carpenter as Javert created tension with his “Soliloquy”. We have so many talented, top-tier Canadian actor/singers that it’s disappointing to have a touring company come into our country. I wish Mirvish could have reprised the 2013 cast. The day of Canada needing touring companies is long gone.

In 2013, I said there were two things that just don’t ring true, and both were the same in this production. The prisoners are rowing a ship, and the idea of rowing doesn’t make sense: where are they going, and why are they still in France? In other productions Valjean was part of a chain-gang, breaking up rocks, and it was obvious that he was amazingly strong. So it follows that Javert immediately recognizes Valjean when he lifts a heavy cart off a man.

Later, Marius and the students plan their actions in a pub. After the fighting at the barricade, all the other young men are killed, and Marius sings the poignant “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”. In most productions, Marius returns to the pub where his friends should have been. In these two productions, it seems odd that he sings in a cobblestone street where there are no chairs or tables.

So while this is the second best Les Mis I’ve seen, this is still a wonderful show, thanks to the glorious songs that we all know and love.

Les Misérables continues with eight shows a week at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. W., Toronto, Ontario until June 1, 2024. Call 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.

Photo: “One Day More”. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

Les Misérables
Produced by Cameron Mackintosh
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Adapted by Trevor Nunn and John Caird
Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell
Musical supervision by Stephen Brooker & James Moore
Performed by Nick Cartell, Preston Truman Boyd, Randy Jeter, Hayley Dortch, Victoria Huston-Elm, Matt Crowle, Mya Rena Hunter, Delaney Guyer, Devin Archer, Jake David Smith, et al.
Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St.W., Toronto
March 26 to June 1, 2024
Reviewed by Mary Alderson


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