Les Misérables - December 10, 2012 (Malmö Opera, Malmö)
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After having seen Les Misérables four times in London, not to mention watching the dvds A LOT of times, I was very excited about finally getting to see my favourite musical in Swedish! This also means I have a lot of opinions about it, especially since a bunch of things were changed from the English version. In many cases it's not a question of what is better, but simply me reacting because it is different.
At first I felt disappointed because the staged looked so small and empty (we had front row seats!). But once the curtain opened it revealed a bigger stage wich included a turntable (rotating stage). It felt a bit strange that it was further back on the stage, but I was glad they did have one. It wasn't really used as much as in the London production though, but it still added to the show. The cast members really used the entire stage - and more, which made it an adventure to sit on the first row. The Thénardiers also entered and left the stage through the theatre, so there was no exit or trap door in the stage.
One of the biggest changes in this production was the costumes, which in many cases were very different from the original ones. While this doesn't have to be a bad thing, it does make things a bit more confusing for the audience, as the costumes are very much used to identify the characters on stage. I did really like Javert's new costume though, and it was nice to see Cosette in a new dress.
The opening scene with the chain gang already shows us this production will be a bit different, with a different looking set and with the chain gang in overalls. When Valjean gets his ticket of leave, Javert pulls off his overalls (no way he's letting Valjean run off with clothes that belong to the prison). As the turntable stage is used rather differently here, the classic scene with the farmers working on it looks rather differently as they have a special choreography instead. Pretty cool! But different.
The bishop's house is re-using the set from the chain gang, which almost looks like a house lying down. We see people (are they meant to be servants at the house, or just part of the ensemble?) holding up candlesticks and silverwear, making it look like a table set up for dinner. Valjean never sits down at the table, and when he takes his flight he simply grabs the silver from these hands we see. The candlesticks are usually used throughout the show and are quite an important symbol, especially seen in the end of "One Day More" and at the end when Valjean is dying, but here they are never used again.
I found it a bit strange that they still use the old Swedish translation (from 1990), but they did change a few lines (most noticeably Javert's strange line in "One Day More"). What was cool was that they actually added some lines that were not in the original production. Before the robbery Eponine runs into Montparnasse who tells her what they plan to do. She then sings a few lines about her worries what's going to happen if Marius sees here there, as he will think she is part of the robbery, and that's why she must stop them. Also when Valjean is telling Marius about his past and who he really is there is a new intro explaining what life was like back then and how pepople were starving.
The factory scene was a bit different, mostly because of the costumes which looked very different from the original ones. Also it took me some time to realize which was the girls was Fantine, and also there seemed to be several of them who were mean to her instead of the usual "Factory Girl" who causes her trouble. In this version it seems like Valjean sees more of what's going on but ignores it. Also the factory foreman seems worse than usual.
I have to say the "Lovely Ladies"-scene felt very wrong to me. Clearly I'm missing something, because I fail to understand a lot of it. And I thought I had some experience of Les Misérables. Instead of the usual lovely-ladies-costumes half the women are dressed as dolls (I assume) in white, and seem to be controlled (or displayed) by the other women who are wearing black dresses. Somewhere in the mix there is also a nun! The old woman who buys Fantine's locket has been replaced by a younger lady and her husband (who seem to appear in different roles in this scene as well as other scenes).
When Fantine has died and Valjean fights with Javert, he doesn't do his usual trick of breaking a chair to get a piece of wood to use as a weapon, instead he seems to be able to pull out some kind of sword-like weapon out of his cane.
Castle on a Cloud is quite different in this version as Cosette is not alone at the inn when she is singing. Instead it is filled with drunk guests who are asleep (or unconsious) at the tables. I think both Thénardier and Mme Thénardier were also there, and little Eponine was sleeping on one of the tables. While the original French version makes it clear that Cosette doesn't have a doll, here she is holding a very simple doll. When Mme wakes up (or enters the room) little Epoinine takes the doll away from little Cosette. During "Master of the House" Eponine appears to be torturing the doll, which is quite disturbing. During most of the song she is sitting on the table, but for a brief time she sits on her father's lap. Eponine is dressed very differently from the usual little Eponine. In fact her costume looks like something the original lovely ladies would wear. Makes one wonder if her childhood in this version wasn't worse than little Cosettes? The guests are really drunk in this scene and they are using all of the stage, falling down, sitting on the edge of the stage, dropping cups and barrels and so on.
We don't get to see when Valjean first meets little Cosette out in the woods. Instead they suddenly show up at the inn together at the end of "Master of the House". Little Eponine is still in the room, while it's really nice that she has a much bigger part in this version (still no lines though), it does change the feeling of the scene as she hears her parents telling Valjean how much they love Cosette etc. Eponine continues to torture Cosette's doll. I assumed either Valjean would take the doll and give it back to Costte, or she would be getting the usual pretty doll she gets at the end of the scene. But no, no doll for little Cosette. She does get a pretty dress, yellow instead of the usual black dress, and Valjean puts it on her during the "Waltz of Treachery" song already. When Valjean and little Cosette leave (to the "Castle on a cloud" song) adult Cosette shows up, wearing the same yellow dress as little Cosette. She dances with Valjean to the music, as little Cosette dances across the stage alone and disappears. Then adult Cosette and Valjean run off the stage. The scene was really different from the original version, and although it is one of my favourite scenes I did like this version too.
The students, like many other characters had costumes that looked very different from what we are used to. It does make it more difficult to identify who is who. Also there are a group of female students with them who for some reason are dressed in tank tops and tutus. Strange!.
Marius was really great in this production! Not only was the performer one of the best I've seen as Marius, but they had also made the character a bit tougher - about time! For instance he gets angry with Grantaire when he teases him.
Just like little Eponine, adult Eponine is wearing a bright-red curly wig. She is wearing a green jacket and has a green bow on her head. Her appearance is quite different from the Eponine we are used to seeing. We had an understudy for the part, but she was really great!
I really liked how Valjean tries to hide his face from Javert when he sees him again (after Thénardier and his gang have tried to attack him and Cosette). Great acting! In this version the Thénardiers don't have a doll but instead bring in Eponine as "the child who ain't eaten today".
The runaway cart was smaller than usual but the scene was saved by adding that it was filled with gunpowder!Good save! Now we get what the big deal was.
While Javert got cooler clothes in this version, he is missing his classic cane which is obvious in the song "Stars".
When Cosette is singing "In My Life", she is lowered down to the stage in a big case, obviously a symbol of how trapped she is feeling in her life. When she then talks to Valjean about how she is feeling he appears angry with her.
In "One Day More" Javert is wearing a better disguise than usual. There is some kind of construction thing on stage, which the students, led by Enjolras of course, walks up on. Marius later runs up there to join them.
"On My Own" was really good. Eponine actually wears the same outfit all through the show. In fact she doesn't even put on the usual coat and hide her hair in a hat to pretend to be a boy. That means that Valjean doesn't call her a boy, and when Eponine injured climbs the barricade everyone knows it's her (no "there's a boy climbing the barricade"). It is a bit strange as Marius of course sees that she's injured right away, as the blood is very visable (and not hidden under a coat and hat).
Although Marius seems "tougher" in this version he does not hit Thénardier when he tries to blackmail him, but just gives him the money and then leaves with Cosette.
It was nice to get to see all three kids at the curtain call, and not only Gavroche. As they are only doing the show on Friday-Sunday (and three kids share each part) I supppose it was possible here.
The scene where the students die is handled rather differently. The stage rotates and we see soldiers firing rifles at the barricade while a French flag is burning. Later all of a sudden all the students run out screaming to the edge of the stage (I think Grantaire was carrying Gavroche) where they die. They remain there for quite some time. The Thénardiers (yes, both of them - Madame was also in the robbery scene) search their corpses and we see Valjean carrying Marius and meeting Javert. During the song "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" the students get up and walk to sit on some chairs that are lined up behind Marius. Some chairs remain empty though, and Gavroche sits on the floor next to Grantaire's chair. Later during the song they all stand up again and leave the stage.
Javert's suicide is also handled in a different way. He does not jump in the river, but instead he shoots himself.
Now it might seem like I'm really knitpicking here. But yes, I did react to all the changes. Some I liked, and some I didn't. BUT I really did enjoy the show a lot, and that's the most important thing, right? Also the cast was really great! For most parts they had two people share the part. I had assumed that one of them was the "main" actor and the other did the part when the first one was busy, but that was obviously wrong. For instance we had the second Enjolras, but the first one was instead playing the part of Courfeyrac. Of the main characters only the parts of Marius and Eponine were played by one person each. This time we had an understudy (Micaela Sjöstedt) who played the part of Eponine, but she was one of the best performers of the show! My big favourite was Fred Johanson as Javert. He was a really awesome Javert. Of course I knew he would be, I have seen him in Cats (twice) and in Sunset Boulevard before, and he is always really great! A true star! I also really liked Philip Jalmelid as Marius. One of my favourite Marius! Also Dan Ekborg did a really good as Jean Valjean. I knew he is a very good actor, but now I also know he's a great singer.
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