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July 17, 1987 - Image 52

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-07-17

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THEATER

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52 FRIDAY, JULY 17, 1987

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hree musical mega
hits dominate the
London theatre today:
Les Miserables, Phantom of
the Opera, and Chess. All
three are extraordinary
shows. Only one, Les
Miserables, has crossed the
Atlantic to New York at this
point; Phantom should follow
soon, while Chess is iffy.
Les Miserables knocked me
out. It is certainly one of the
best shows I've seen in a long
time, musical or straight
dramatic.
Unless you were raised in
outer space, you doubtlessly
know the basic outline of the
Victor Hugo classic story on
which this show is based.
Perhaps you have memories
of one of the film versions or
you've seen it. on TV.
This new musical treat-
ment originated in Paris
where it created a sensation.
It was then brought to Lon-
don, with a re-worked book
and new English lyrics. It
bowled over critics and public
alike. Then the move to New
York where it was a similar
smash.
The- score, by Claude-
Mechel Schonberg, is by turns
gutsy, lyrical, passionate, ex-
hilarating. It is extremely
theatrical and works
beautifully.
Les Miserables opens in-
tensely with Jean Valjean be-
ing released after 19 years of
imprisonment for stealing a
loaf of bread. The conflict bet-
ween him and Police Inspec-
tor Javert is set up im-
mediately as Javert warns
Valjean that he is an outcast
and will be watched constant-
ly. You are involved im-
mediately and carried into
19th Century France, into the
world of the poor and
oppressed.
This underpinning of social
content makes Les Miz so
much more than just a
policeman chasing a fugitive
melodrama and is probably
one of the reasons why this
story has been a worldwide
success for so many years. It
strikes some deep and basic
human yearning for a higher
form of morality and justice.
The physical production of
Les Miz is absolutely
astonishing. Director Trevor
• Nunn, who was largely
responsible for that other
transcription of a classic,
Nicholas Nickleby, has
created a cinematic flow for

the action. With a rotating
stage, set pieces that slide in
and out and fly up and down,
complex lighting that shapes
everything, Nunn takes us
from prison, to courtyard, to
barricades, to the River Seine
— all without a pause.
Phantom of the Opera does
not have the social content of
Les Miz. But, on its own
terms, it is no less successful.
Here is another classic tale:
the hideously deformed com-
poser who hides in the hidden
reaches of the theater; yearn-
ing for the love of the
beautiful young singer.
While the cast I saw in Lon-
don was top-notch, the real
stars of this production are
the musical score and the
physical production.
Andrew Lloyd Webber has
another monster hit on his

"Les Miserables"
score is by turns
gutsy, lyrical,
passionate,
exhilarating.

hands. What is so surprising
is that he has moved totally
away from his rock beginn-
ings and completely into the
realm of the lyrical big ballad
which was signaled in his hit
song from Cats, "Memories."
This score could almost
have been written decades
ago by Franz Lehar or Sig-
mund Romberg. There are big
Puccini-like melodies with
lush strings underlining
them. "All I Ask of You" was
one of the best of these.
The sound is high-tech and
takes advantage of every
state-of-the-art audio device.
All of the singers wear body
microphones, the entire or-
chestra is likewise on
microphones, and everything
comes to you through an
audio mixer and out into -
stereophonic speakers that
surround the theater.
It is an engulfing sound
that gives you as good a mix
as you would get from a high-
quality recording session. Yet,
the technology is -so advanced
that it has a very live sound,
complete with reverb and
even a touch of echo at times.
You are literally immersed in
sound. I'm not complaining. I
found it thrilling.
The physical production is
likewise state-of-the-art and
very exciting. I won't give
away any of the effects, but I
will tell you that they elicited
Continued on Page 66

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