Today (8th October 2015) the West End production of Les Miserables is celebrating its 30th birthday! The mark the occasion, the current cast will be joined onstage by members of the original company and special guests including Colm Wilkinson, Roger Allam, Frances Ruffelle, Alfie Boe, John Owen-Jones and Gerónimo Rauch in a special finale concluding tonight's gala performance.
Over the years many Les Mis stars past and present have spoken to West End Frame about their time in the show and the secret to its success. Below are a few extracts...
Current Enjolras & understudy Jean Valjean
"This whole process has been like a dream come true. Les Mis is always a dream as a younger performer in musical theatre. What’s great is that even though the show has been running for thirty years you can still have so much of your own interpretation and bring your own version. Les Mis has everything; the story has its ups and downs and trials and tribulations – not forgetting the lyrics and music. It’s a beautiful story to be taken on, you can just sit there and be taken away and I think that’s magical. There are no thrills to it – being part of other shows, sometimes the audience are taken away by the big budgets and magical lights and stuff like that, but Les Mis is about honest acting and telling a truthful story. It’s not about everything else that comes with it."
Current Madame Thénardier
"My association with Les Mis has always been happy and longstanding. I was asked to audition for the film when I was doing the show last time. When I got a part in it I was just over the moon. I was thrilled to get an actual named part. I played Madame Huchloup who was actually in the book. Tom Hooper was very kind to me and put me in a lot of shots [laughs]. He used to say, “Alright Huchloup?”"
"I do feel that pressure, there are a lot of people who will see the film and then go and see the show. We hope we can bring something fresh to the roles and in my opinion – I’m completely biased – it’s the show I prefer because there’s nothing like live theatre and the way the story’s told and the revolve and set… you can get wider angles from the film but more depth and emotion from the stage production. During ‘At The End Of The Day’ you can have the cast right in your face – there’s nothing like that and people will never forget the experience. It’s unique and where it all started. Because the show is so popular there is that pressure – but it’s a good pressure. The show is still as popular now as it was when it started so you’ve got to keep giving 100% every night."
"It’s a dream come true to get to play Fantine. And the fact I get to play it in London feels incredible. For me as an American, to be over here in the longest running musical in the West End? Well it’s just the best! Fantine is an amazing character… she makes me want to fight harder in my life. The music, the story, the characters. Each character is crafted so beautifully and gets to sing a killer song. I feel like the audience really does go on the journey with you. Every song is memorable. And even though each character’s life seems so depressing, you watch how they don’t roll over and let life get the best of them. They are fighters! So you leave the show feeling HOPEFUL!!!"
Former Jean Valjean
"I got a lovely signed print from Cameron on my last day saying, “I hope to bring you home to this role once again in the future” which was a nice thing to have. It was mutually agreed that I would leave after the first contract - I think you have to, particularly for this part as it’s unrealistic to churn it out any longer than a year and still love it. I wanted to leave while I was still loving it rather than thinking, ‘oh my god I’m so exhausted I can’t imagine doing it any longer’. I think that if I were to return to Les Mis I would have such fond memories of doing it that it would re-ignite my fire for another period. So that’s how it was left and I’m sure Les Mis isn't a closed chapter for me, it’s just a break to enable me to pursue this other project which I’ve wanted to do for years."
"Daunting is one of the many hundreds of emotions that I felt when joining Les Mis [laughs]. I can’t begin to describe to you how elated with joy I was when I found out I had got the part. I love the ensemble feel and the company are so supportive. You can do as much technical training as you like but to find focus as well as personal drive and improvement can’t be taught, and when I got to the rehearsal room I learnt that. We sort of reinvented the production because there were twenty new people joining the cast. Everyone had this massive company feel which Les Mis had originally when they first did it. Everyone is involved."
"Whenever someone asks, “You were in Les Mis, weren’t you?” I say, “Oh gosh, yes I was, wasn’t I?!” I mean, I’m so incredibly lucky and so incredibly grateful! Being part of great huge productions like that teaches you so much. You learn so much about discipline and working within a large company. To be honest with you Andrew, I just feel really, really lucky! Sometimes, honestly, I forget it actually happened [laughs]!"
Former Enjolras + understudy Jean Valjean and Javert
"I had been a swing in the show which meant I covered the entire ensemble so I knew all the parts. So when I was cast as Combeferre in the film I knew what the character was about and could put more of the book into the movie which was exciting. We worked with Tom Hooper and I knew some of the other guys who were in it. It was an amazing process to see how a movie is put together from scratch and how the blink of an eye lid is actually seen, I could see what works on screen versus what works on stage. I had an absolutely fantastic experience – I’d be up for the sequel!"
Former understudy Marius & Enjolras
"I was lucky enough to join for the 25th year which was a very exciting time for the show. We performed at the O2 and Alfie Boe and Matt Lucas both joined the cast. Of course people went on to do great things, like Samantha Barks. Two years was the perfect amount of time to be there, it was great!"
Former Enjolras & Marius
"'One Day More’ from Les Miserables never gets dull or boring. You can see it being performed by schools and it’s still good, you can see it performed by the O2 cast and it blows your mind. I don’t think there’s a better end to act one in any show I’ve been in!"
Former Jean Valjean / Javert Understudy
"Les Mis is such an amazing show to be a part of, but it’s quite nice knowing that it’s always there. I’m absolutely missing it a lot. I’ve been absolutely blessed over the last couple of years to go on as Jean Valjean and Javert, as well as the different students I played – I swapped between years. For me Valjean in particular was an absolute dream because on the twentieth anniversary, ten years ago, they did a medley at the end of the show and got a whole load of under eighteen year olds to come and do a medley of the songs. I did Valjean in that, so it was really nice to then come back and actually do it for real! And then one day I would love to go back and properly, properly do it."
HAPPY 30TH BIRTHDAY LES MISERABLES