LES MISERABLES (Mirvish Productions/ Cameron Mackintosh). To November 5. 416-872-1212. See listings, page 87, for details. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Les Misérables , one of the defining mega-musicals of the 1980s, isn't the subtlest piece of work, but there's a reason why it's endured.
Based on Victor Hugo 's epic novel about class, crime and punishment in 19th-century France, the musical is clear and direct, with appealing (if two-dimensional) characters, a compelling cat-and-mouse chase plot and a handful of catchy melodies that pop up repeatedly during the work's three hours.
The touring production at the Princess of Wales until October 22 (it then moves to the Canon until November 5) is handsome and sturdy, and features one of the best performers you're ever likely to catch in the lead role.
As fugitive Jean Valjean, a man who's remade his life after being imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, Randal Keith has the requisite physical and vocal power, yet can also float those gentle high notes in a three-hanky song like Bring Him Home. It's no surprise producer Cameron Mackintosh chose Keith to play Valjean for the musical's final Broadway performance two and a half years ago.
Keith's well matched by Robert Hunt , who more than lives up to his surname as Valjean's nemesis, the maniacal Inspector Javert.
Touring productions can get stale, the burnt-out performers simply hitting their marks. There's no evidence of that here, with especially good ensemble work from the idealistic student characters, who sing the impassioned, flag-waving lyrics with integrity.
Norman Large and Jennifer Butt (I'm sure they've heard the jokes) also stand out as the Thenardiers, the scavenging couple who remain the 20-year-old musical's most colourful, original creations.