Les Miserables' is one of the biggest musicals around and the longest running in its 27th year. If you are a fan of musicals or just enjoy catching a live show every now and then, this one might be one you have already seen or one to definitely check out. It is also a show that would suit everyone and attracts a wide audience because of ... the range of themes within it and has a story that works perfectly when turned into a musical show.
'Les Miserables' takes place in Queen's theatre, on Shaftesbury Avenue located in Piccadilly Circus/Leicester Square, the closest underground stations are either Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly line/Bakerloo line) or Leicester Square (Piccadilly line/Northern line) not far from China Town both only a short walk from the stations and a perfect location to catch dinner after the show - but the worst location if your returning home when all the shows finish around the same time.
'Les Miserables' can be seen from Monday to Saturday in the evenings at 7.30pm. Matinee shows can be seen on Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm. There are no shows on Sunday. The show runs for 2 hours and 50 minutes with one intermission of around 15 minutes in the middle.
The shows ticket prices stay the same most of the year round. You won't save any money by booking tickets in advance, but you might save money booking tickets last minute, either online or booking on the day from the box offices in Leicester Square, although your seats might not be as as you preferred. Below are the different areas you could choose from, but officially Queen's Theatre offer: Stalls, Royal Circle, Upper Circle and Standing area (Balcony - back of the theatre).
* Stalls: Stalls are usually all on one flat level without much of a gradient and all the stall seats are located in roughly the front half of the theatre, are on a level lower than the stage and so you will be looking up at the stage from these seats which means you might miss some of the stage features on the floor for example. Just make the decision of which tickets you go for in the stalls according to the row number offered; back rows of the stalls are bad seats in my opinion - the best of the stalls are normally roughly near the front and in the centre. Stalls prices for Les Mis are around £100 for premium seats near the front and around £70-£60 at other stall seats, like near the back and around the sides.
* Dress Circle: Dress circle I think are best viewing seats as long as you are at the front. Seats we have chosen have previously been near the front of this lot and there are stunning views to be seen. The Dress Circle is lower than the Upper Circle and slightly forward so the views will be better. You are also at a good level in relation to the stage, so you will get a better view of it, you won't be looking up like you do when in the stalls which I think is great - better at seeing some of the effects like the rotating floor etc. Prices at the back and sides of the Dress Circle range from around £50-£45, but the best seats of the Dress Circle are around £60 at the front centre rows.
* Upper circle/Grand Circle: The Upper circle is very high up at Queen's theatre and front row here can be priced almost the same as seats near middle of the Dress circle. If at the front, you will have the same sort of view as that of the Dress Circle only that you will be higher and up and it might look slightly more distant. The prices are around £35-£40 if they are "restricted view" tickets or side view and £40-55 for good middle front seats.
* Balcony/'Standing area': I personally wouldn't watch a show from the standing area. This is the area right at the back of the theatre, you could literally touch the back wall and you will stand in a line behind the last row of the upper circle. You can get seats for the balcony pretty cheap, around £20.
* "Sides" vs "Centre" Rows: If the seat you choose is on the edges of the theatre (like the early or later numbers 1-4 or 22-26) these can be awkward seats most times as you might not get the "full" experience that you'd get when sitting as centrally as possible - you might have areas of the stage cut off and could ruin your experience but with Les Mis in the Queen's theatre, its really weird because these seats are priced roughly the same, and almost as high as some of the great seats in the centre front - it may be to do with demand but don't pay the same when you can get better seats!
Before you buy your tickets, it could be a good idea to check the theatre seating plan map where you can see every little seat and can check out what seats exactly you are paying for and if they look as though they are awkwardly positioned in the theatre, you may as well avoid and go for others at similar prices. Plus on the official website - www.lesmis.com/uk/ - you are able to pick a range of seats and check out what the view will be like from those particular seats which I think is a very cool feature. Normally I have always avoided side seats and mostly the stalls altogether and also have never paid more than £40 - £50 per seat for any other theatre show but for Les Mis you might have to spend a bit more than £50 for that better experience (unfortunately).
About "Les Miserables"
'Les Miserables' is in its 27th year running since it was first showing in 1985. It is based on a novel also called 'Les Miserables' by French poet Victor Hugo. Obviously originally the story was in the French language and only later was it translated into English in 1985 where it was first performed in Barbican in London. The show won an Olivier award for most popular show voted by audience in 2012, last year.
What it's about: 'Les Miserables' is about a man named Jean Valjean who breaks parole, after spending 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's children. As the story begins, we see him trying to start his life afresh but gets into more trouble with the police and is caught again by Javert. Caught stealing again, he comes across the Bishop who tells a lie to help him and this in turn helps free him, both from further time in prison and from the state of life he had been living. This Bishop had been very kind to him and encourages him positively. And so after 8 years, he has changed his name to Monsieur Madeleine and becomes an owner of a big factory. Here, he finds that one of his factory workers called Fantine has an illegitimate child but the supervisor of the workers throws her out of the factory, leaving her with no work, no money and so she takes to the streets to sell herself to make the money she needs to provide for her daughter - who we later find is named Cosette. There are these sort of demanding and challenging things Valjean goes through in this story, where he is seen to be having dealings with the police continuously on his back, his rage at those people with the power, the kindness he offers with taking care of Cosette who he promises Fantine, the intense experiences of the citizen rebellion against the French army in this post-revolutionary Paris and keeping from Cosette, as she grows up, her own background history. 'Les Miserables' like the title suggests is a sombre tale but is told beautifully and captures our imagination through the experiences we see the characters go through. There are much more serious tones than there are happy ones, but I find it very compelling and uplifting because of the journeys we see some of the characters go through as the story builds up.
The characters: Jean Valjean when he is released from prison - also known as "prisoner 24601" by Javert - is seen as a tough and hardened criminal. His hate for society is powerful, and he doesn't hold back but he soon becomes the hero of this story because of the right paths he chooses to take along the way, the friends he makes and the kindness and sentiment he is able show as well. And although we see that he is capable of affection and kind-heartedness especially when he steps in to take care of Cosette, throughout the story he still remains strong mentally and physically as he always was. The injustice to our protagonist for his treatment of petty stealing becomes stronger as viewers. The next most important character of the show might be Cosette. We see her in her childhood as a servant with a bucket cleaning the tables at the Thenardier's inn in her first scene. But as the show goes on we see her grow up into a young woman who is loyal to her father, she has been brought up the way Valjean has wanted and she turns out to be a well-educated and happy person to who she was but she develops her own issues. We also see that she has a love interest Marius which allows for some more personality development in Cosette. Another important character in the musical is Javert, the police officer who we see pursuing Vajean but whom we can not empathise with as he comes across as unfair. He sticks to his rules, shows no heart and is dedicated to completing his work. Throughout there is a constant clash between Valjean and Javert and lots of drama and it is interesting when things get heated. Few more other important characters in the show, are Fantine who we see near the start of the show - a poor working class women, the mother of Corsette and we see her go through extremes to protect her child and ensure her safely. And then there's the Thernardier's - evil and abusers of Cosette as a child, selfish and money-hungry, but very funny as characters in the show and there is Epoinine, another very interesting character, since she is the daughter of the Thernardier's where we see her helping them of course with their pitiful work - but it is interesting to see her personality change as she falls for Marius.
The cast: The cast of 'Les Miserables' on stage bring us the entertainment we paid to see and so they are expected to build up a connection with the audience as best as they can, capture our attention for around to 3 hours and leave us with an awesome musical experience. The cast were brilliant and they did a great job at doing all of that. Each of them portray their characters with acting and singing very well, the way it seemed was the best they could have, flawlessly without any obvious slip-ups and they are believable and appealing with lots of emotion, personality and humour where needed. The cast current include Gernonimo Rauch who plays Jean Vajean, Tam Mutu who is plays Jervet, Fantine played by Sierra Boggess, Cosette played by Samantha Dorsey, Marius played by Craig Mather, Eponine played by Danielle Hope (Dorothy from 'Wizard of Oz' before it closed in the West End last year) Other cast members include Cameron Blakely (Thenardier), Linzi Hateley (Madame Thenardier), Liam Tamine (Enjolras).
Themes/Issues: Issues of a cruel society and its law and beggars versus petty criminal and its unfairness, self-sacrifice and bravery, love and death and trust and childhood, saving yourself, selling yourself, the treatment of women and their place in society and the attitudes of men, are some issues that go to make up the content of Les Mis. As the show opens we are instantly shown a level of poverty and the difficulties faced by these poor people and the song 'Look Down' which opens up the show illustrates this - it feels grim and oppressive as a start but then again we didn't expect a colourful musical anyway - so it was a perfectly appropriate beginning. As the story continues, we are taken along with a mixture of many more different themes: like plenty of horrors of unfair death, poverty, 'sacrifice' and abuse, romance such as the strong relationships and the developing love between Cosette and Marius/the beauty of the father-daughter relationship between Valjean and Cosette, then there is plenty of action like the scenes of battle on the barricade and not to leave out plenty of dramatic episodes through a journey of highs and lows. Although, like I mentioned, there is more to feel gloomy about when we see some of the more saddening revelations within the drama from the start to its very final scene, it still captures plenty of humour like the behaviour of the working class and other little unexpected bits here and there which was always a welcome addition. Overall this story is packed with lots of different themes but all of it leads back to poverty and hardship.
The show/production: There is a lot going on on the stage and the pace of it is quick and the visuals are appealing - just how we would expect it to be really, so don't mistake the gloominess of its sbuject and the serious tones to Les Mis as dull! The actual stage has the effect, probably like most theatre productions, of drawing us into its setting were we see the effect of bricked paving outdoors during the night and windows and walls indoors and table and chairs, food and drink in the inns and additionally, the stage rotates on a revolving circular plate that makes up the floor of the stage to add some imaginative motion and reality to the drama. There are barricades brought onto stage later on which form in a rather outlandish way joining on either sides of the stage and used in scenes of the revolt with the actors on their guns that light and bang loudly, again keeping to the reality of the events as much as possible and really successfully. There is no spoken dialogue in the show - all is sung in a musical format unlike some others shows in the West End. I have to say I personally like a combination of spoken and sung, but then again I think the way we see it here works perfectly in this case and took us away with the powerful vocals since singing has more tendency to bring out greater emotive content.
In terms of seeing the whole production comfortably, one thing I do think strongly is when deciding on which seats to finally book, 'Les Miserables' is one show you need to really make sure you are sitting as close to the stage as you can (like in the front or near the front rows of the dress or the stalls) since it is heavily based on the emotion that these characters are trying to show and so you really need to see their facial expression etc for the best effect - if you cant see there faces, that will be one element you will miss out on. The production of this show is really not like 'Wicked' or 'Lion King' where it is all really 'massive', hugely scaled, glitzy, bright colourful lights and really OTT where you could easily get away with a brilliant experience somewhere near the back. Les Mis is slightly more subtle than that and you might risk feeling slightly disconnected when sitting near the back - that is the mistake I made the second time round when I went to watch Les Mis - I thought I could get away with it, but I definitely couldn't (Although I did end up saving a bit of money anyway...!)
Music/Songs: Since there is no spoken dialogue within the show and every bit of the story is sung, all of the songs linked from one to another tell the entire story of 'Les Miserables'. Live music from the orchestra sounded great and the songs are some of the catchiest of a lot of musicals out there. The story of 'Les Miserables' is not totally a piece of cake though - many people find it long-winded, confusing at times and you really got to concentrate, and so do I. It is sometimes difficult to follow the singing the first time you hear it especially when the songs are completely new to you and the first time I went to see it I found it difficult to pay attention to the lyrics of the songs, focusing more on the overall sound of it. So it may be a good idea to find out the basic plot before watching. The songs are still stunning though, and the sound is very powerful and intense. Some of the most popular well-known songs of Les Mis are: 'Who am I' sung by Valjean when he questions himself on who he is after stealing and he makes a wise decision at this point that we see following into the next song within the story. Another favourite is 'Do you hear the people sing' (singing the song of angry men) which is another well-known of the show since its most of the cast singing together and a song with basically sums up the entire musical and very uplifting all on its own; I Dreamed a Dream' - another favourite sung by Fantine where she is thinking back to her past and how her life was to how it is now when she is unhappy. And of course the list goes on....
If you like a good show, with great songs and lots of meaning, action and depth then you should really get yourself tickets to go and see this - It will not disappoint. I really just can't recommend this musical any more than that! Of course I cant wait to see the new 'Les Miserables' movie in the cinema but going to watch it in theatre is a much more intimate experience that you wont forget as soon as you might the film. The only downside to this musical is that the tickets prices are generally higher than most other shows unless you are willing to sit somewhere near the back, in which case your experience might be poor. Overall a brilliant quality show, and this wont be my last time I see the show, I'm sure, one of the reason why a show like this still carries on after 26th years!
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Woman in Black
On a recent trip to London, I went to see The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre in London's Covent Garden. After seeing the film, which was terrifying, I was a little nervous about seeing this play. My flatmate and I had to go to a matinee as it wasn't being shown the night we were in London and we managed to get front row seats for ... a really good price.
As we walked into the theatre, it was filled with smoke which set the scene really well. Walking into that theatre made me think back to the film and the scary, misty moors near the dead woman's house and it instantly made me a bit creeped out. Unfortunately, as this was a matinee, there was a school visit and the theatre full of teenagers ruined my mood quite quickly.
The lights go down, more smoke is put into the theatre and the story begins. Arthur Kipps (played by Ken Drury) takes the stage and begins to read out the beginning of his tale. However, he is quickly interrupted by an actor (played by Adam Best) running down the center isle of the theatre, who tells him to start over again and to put some feeling into the reading. Kipps has come to the actor in order to get his story heard, to have some help and advice about how to tell it to his family. The beginning of the play is quite funny, with Kipps and the actor arguing about what should be done and how it should be done.
However, the actor soon takes over, convincing Kipps to play out the parts and the actor to play a younger Kipps. This is where the story really gets going and although there are a few small breaks in-between scenes, with Kipps and the actor going home for the day etc., it is quite smooth going and it wasn't very disjointed at all. The play, while slightly different to the film in places, explains what happened to Kipps once he went to Eel Marsh House.
There are only two actors names for this play. There is actually three although it doesn't say anywhere who actually plays the woman in black. All three actors were fantastic in their parts and very convincing. Drury shows real concern about performing his story and even more concerned about even telling it. He seemed like a really lovely old man who really did play the part well. Then there is Best who plays the actor. He adds some humour into a very dark and dramatic play which lightens up the story a little bit for the audience.
The woman in black was absolutely terrifying and I really wish we could know who played her. The few times she does pop up throughout the play scared me to death and I wasn't expecting it all of the time. Sometimes she is right near the audience, running down the aisles and popping up right in front of the front row. The set of this play is very basic with only 2 sets of scenery being used. However, there were some inventive ways of showing the woman in black and hiding her on stage so that she could jump out.
This play is obviously one not suitable for children although the teenagers in the theatre seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. There was plenty of screaming throughout the play which shows just how scary it was. I would definitely recommend seeing this play, especially if like me, you didn't think a play would scare you.
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Wicked The Musical
TIME TO BE WICKED I love a good musical and have seen now seen several. I can't see myself enjoying any as much and certainly not more than my favourite "Les Miserables" but, if they are HALF as good then that means, for me, they are worth watching. I had been meaning to go and see 'Wicked' for ages but ... hadn't got around to it until this October. My teenage daughter has seen it a few times and knows all the songs. As she is studying musical theatre and practices her singing on myself and her dad, we are also familiar with the songs from this musical. My husband and I both like "For Good" best and as our daughter has sung this on momentous occasions (for her and us) it's very special for us. Now, hearing this song can bring a tear or two to our eyes. Knowing something of the musical score is a great help for us when choosing a musical to visit.
My daughter has seen a few different casts in this show including Kerry Ellis as Elphaba, but she told me that Rachael Tucker was brilliant and so was Gina Beck, as Galinda). I knew a cast change was imminent but hoped we might manage to see these two witches together before one of them left the show.
My husband and I chose to go to see a Saturday matinee performance of this show and treat our daughter to a ticket, and meet her at the theatre. It isn't easy to arrange a mutually convenient time as she has rehearsals and performances often.
A WICKED PLACE
Wicked the Musical is showing at The Apollo Victoria. We had a bit of a journey as some of the central line underground line wasn't operating due to maintenance and other lines had a restricted service also, but we managed to get there with time to spare. We had to change lines but when exiting Victoria underground station the theatre can be clearly seen opposite. Building work is taking place in this area but this didn't cause a problem, just spoiled the view a little in respect of taking photos around the theatre.
I booked (only a few days before our chosen date) directly by telephone with the theatre. The assistant in the box office was helpful. As this was near to time we wanted to go I wasn't sure if we would get good seats. I usually prefer the stalls but my daughter assured me that with this particular show it didn't matter too much if one wasn't close up as the show is a spectacle with great scenery and all of the stage being used. I was told that three seats were available in the circle just a few rows back. I enquired as to whether these seats were any good and he said that he'd sat there himself and thought the view was good. The seats cost over sixty pounds each (I save reviewing proceeds for this purpose and then I don't feel guilty about spending so much) and I paid by debit card.
I was pleased with our seats. We were fairly central and there was an empty seat next to me so I didn't feel at all hemmed in. The rake of the seats, I felt, was good, and we all had a good view of the stage. Theatre glasses were available for hire (I can't remember if they were fifty pence or one pound) but I didn't use these as find them a little annoying.
We weren't far away from the toilets but of course the usual queuing was involved.
WHY THE WITCH BECAME WICKED
Wicked the Musical tells (its own take) how The wicked witch of the west (infamous through L. Frank Baum's book, 'The Wizard of Oz) actually became a 'WICKED' witch, and tells the story of her life. Based on 'Wicked-the untold story of the witches of Oz' from the novel by Gregory Maguire, we see how she was a good 'person' but was, from birth, unloved and misunderstood, and also often avoided due to her green coloured skin. Elphaba was certainly not 'popular', at least not until taken in hand by the good witch Galinda/Glinda. There are links to The Wizard of Oz, although these are loosely based. I haven't yet read the book Wicked (although it's here in my home) but have heard it is much deeper than the musical version. This I can in believe though when seeing in the show the mistreatment of Professor Dillamond, Elphaba's teacher and friend. I imagine there could be more to tell here, in literary form.
Circumstances led to Elphaba seeming to become 'wicked' but I must say I empathised with her, along with the whole theatre's audience, I believe, but you would have to see the show to understand that she wasn't really wicked at all.
I loved the scenery, and the show is indeed a spectacular. I also adored the colourful and fantastic costumes, especially those of the glamorous good witch Glinda.
The flying monkeys are also worth a mention and great to see.
WICKEDLY GOOD CAST
I had heard, before going to see the show that Matt Willis of 'Busted' fame as Fiyero, the male lead, wasn't great but, as far as I was concerned, he played his part well enough. I would say this was a very good cast in terms of any musical, although this being the first time I've seen the show I can't compare to other casts of 'Wicked.' My daughter has now seen this cast twice and other casts and says this was overall the best cast she had seen.
This was the last day for Rachael Tucker to star in Wicked. Rachael Tucker was heavily pregnant but still gave an energetic performance. As this was the last day of shows (matinee and evening performance) for most of the cast there were strange things happening and 'muck ups' My daughter explained why some of the things said were funny as this wouldn't be patently obvious for first timers of the show. We were told they had been told to tone it down for this reason. I thought the sense of mischief added even more to the atmosphere.
This was the cast that we saw:
Rachael Tucker Elphaba (green witch)
Gina Beck Galinda ( Blonde witch!)
Matt Willis Fiyero
Julie Legrand Madame Morrible
Keith Bartlett The Wizard of Oz
Lillie Flynn Nessarose
Christopher Howell Doctor Dillamond
Adam Pettigrew Boq
I had to agree with my daughter that these two actresses (Rachael Tucker and Gina Beck) did a brilliant job throughout the show, both with their acting and brilliant vocals. I was so pleased we had seen them both star together in these roles.
The songs I liked best were:
'For Good' which is a witches duet
'Popular' as, although this isn't a favourite song of mine, I felt that Gina Beck's rendition was superb.
'What is this feeling' sung by Glinda, Elphaba and students of the school.
'As Long as you're mine' Elphaba and Fiyero
'I'm not that girl' Elphaba
I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed this show and so did my husband. All songs in the context of the show were superb and vocals were great.
As this was the last show for many of the cast, including the two female leads, there was an air of fun and of this being an extra special performance.
It's a good plot and quite clever, I thought, with a tale to tell of discrimination and prejudice. Wicked has its sad moments and drama aplenty but interspersed with this is a great deal of humour.
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