Lego version of Les Mis

If you hate the musical Les Miserables (or indeed if you hate musicals full stop) you’re probably not going to clap your hands together with glee when you see this Lego version of Les Mis published in 2007.

Those who do like Les Mis and get the subversive meta-conversation which floats around the show then please stand next to someone who doesn’t and whisper the secret in their ears.

The overblown score and often self-centred renditions of the solo lines makes this and many other songs from the show ripe for exploitation. And reducing the big numbers down to something as pathetically cute as a Lego set makes for something deliciously simple.

And that’s the point. If you’re scrabbling around for inspiration to get you going at the beginning of your day, look no further than the simplest of ideas executed with passion and commitment.

I’m not saying it was easy – these things take a hell of a long time. But the end product raises the warmest of smiles.

Thanks to Facebook pal Liz Walker for bringing this to my attention.

Review: Les Miserables / Barbican Theatre / London (2010)

The all-too-brief run of the touring production of Les Miserables at the Barbican Theatre, London comes to an end next week. And when it does, the company should feel justifiably proud of their achievement. The first night definitely set the bar very high.

Not only did casting the show from previous productions ensure the quality of the musical performances remained high throughout the Barbican run, but the combination of stylish set and lighting designs reinvigorated the reputation of the work as a whole. This is how musical theatre should be. All the time.

Musically, Les Mis isn’t the pappy sentimental work most might assume. Aside from the the ubiquitous songs like “Empty Chairs”, “Master of the House” and “Bring Him Home”, composers Boubil and Schonberg’s writing is tricky to execute vocally and instrumentally. Whilst the pop opera might be devoid of the more traditional recitative, the demands placed on performers by the composers when they’re charged with moving the plot along are considerable. This is no ‘easy sing’.

And that’s where the cast’s experience really paid off. For the majority of the show such investment seems effortless. The audience takes it for granted. The pace is established at the beginning of the preamble. We are completely sucked into the action. Good singing is a given up until the showstoppers, when we’re suddenly reminded of just how accomplished those performers are.

John Owen-Jones delivers a refreshingly ham-free rendition of “Bring Him Home”. The deft casting of the young Cosette succeeded in avoiding the schmaltz which usually exudes from “Castle on a Cloud”. Earl Carpenter made the crowd roar with appreciation with his faultless delivery and terrific control and projection of “Stars”. Gareth Gates too, continues to prove his mettle.

These key performances, combined with the superior scoring and the inventive effects used to visualise underground Paris and Javert’s demise made the standing ovation at the end of the two and three quarter hour performance a foregone conclusion.

But there’s another – slightly darker – success this production has achieved. It’s thrown light on the London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. I saw it for the first time a few weeks ago.

Whilst Les Mis predates Phantom of the Opera by 6 years (the former premiered in Paris in 1980), both shows have run in the West End for around about the same time – Les Mis for 25 years at The Queens Theatre and Phantom for 24 at Her Majestys Theatre.

Les Mis – and especially the Barbican run – steams ahead in terms of musical integrity and production. Phantom in comparison feels creaky, in terms of plot, music and production. The scene changes are noisy. Some of the ensemble numbers feel a little raggedy. The set is in need of a redesign too. And whilst Lloyd Webber’s score offers a collection of set-piece crowdpleasers throughout the first half (which no doubt pulls in the crowds night after night), its lack of pace makes the interval seem like a lifetime away.

The relative speed of the second half is – pretty much – because there’s a bit more going on. But in spite of this, there’s no investment in the characters in that there’s no feeling of jeapordy during or redemption at the end of the show.

Despite it’s ongoing popularity and box-office success the Phantom production now appears like it needs a massive injection to either kick-start it or bring it painlessly to its end. It is crying out for reinvention, especially in terms of set design. Unfortunately, the Barbican production of Les Mis just made that more obvious now.

Les Miserables Cast List

BBC Proms 2010: Rodgers & Hammerstein John Wilson Orchestra

(The blog covering the 2011 appearance at the BBC Proms of the John Wilson Orchestra is available to read here.)

I’m still not absolutely convinced about how deep Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music actually goes. There were moments when I found myself listening to music from Flower Drum Song and thinking how I must make sure not to let the show appear on my birthday Amazon wish-list. Songs from Carousel too did leave me looking a little blankly around the near capacity Royal Albert Hall.

But that lack of enthusiasm for some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s songs wasn’t down to soloists Kim Criswell, Anna-Jane Casey, Sierra Boggess, Rod Gillfry or the brilliant Julian Ovendon. Nor was it down to the John Wilson and his orchestra. All were fully committed to the cause. Take a look at the first violins close to the beginning of the concert when the show is broadcast on (Saturday 28 August, 7.45pm on BBC Two).

Something good at the #bbcproms this afternoon (mp3)

Listen to a post concert AudioBoo

Fundamentally, the problem is down to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s melodies, rhythms and lyrics. Yes, their work would have changed the face of musical theatre in the 1950s and 60s. But now there are moments when the seemingly two-dimensional characters end up giving the game away in the opening lines of each song. Its as though the surprise – the conclusion – is given away in the first few lines of the song. ‘Oh What A Beautiful Morning’ is a rousing song. But once you’ve heard the opening call to arms, suddenly the rest of the song loses my attention.

Sometimes I found myself longing for complex rhythms. Maybe just a little bit more syncopation? What the performance reminded me of was the time Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music existed in. How as a kid I been exposed to the orchestral sound for the first time listening to the Sound of Music on record and how thirty years later I felt distant from some of their catalogue.

Similarly, if future audiences are left wanting musically when they hear the scores for the first time, will that mean that interest in the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein dwindles? Will the likes of the Sound of Music or Carousel or Oklahama soon become unfashionable curiosities like over-orchestrated arrangements of Bach?

The work of people like John Wilson will – undoubtedly – keep this music alive for future generations. He reconstructed orchestrations for tonight’s performance demonstrating the same love for the genre as he did for the MGM Prom last year and the Carry On medley he arranged a few years ago. And its that kind of commitment which is both indicative of and vital to the BBC Proms.

It is only by being exposed to a wide variety of music that the opportunity presents itself to think about how that music effects the individual both in the past and in the present. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s entire catalogue may not make it to my wish-list, but one might. Keep an ear out for Something Good.

Read more details about the BBC Four broadcast of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Prom