Film & Theatre
From the Vault
of the Film Collezionista
Les Miserables (2015 West End production)
Finally, the highlight of my London trip happened on August 8, 2015. I was able to watch the new London cast of Les Miserables which has been receiving rave reviews since the changeover June 15. One even said that this cast has hit the ball out of the park. A central character of the musical is Fantine, a factory worker turned prostitute who sold her body and eventually her heart and soul in the end. Hugo wrote the classic novel with Fantine in mind representing the mistreatment of women and their lack of education. He wanted to show the hypocrisy of society that failed to help raise the plight of women to better standards while encouraging the abrasive behaviour of men like Bamatabois. Tonight, Rachelle Ann Go, who I saw last year as the amazing Miss Saigon's Gigi, is playing Fantine. So I was excited! When act 1 started with the 'End Of the Day', Les Miz hardcore fans knew this was the start of Fantine's journey. Rachelle came in with a subtle strength and you can see on her face the anxiety and the fear as she tries to get through the day working at the factory while fending off the sexual advances of a foreman amidst the gossip and snickering of the workers. When her letter was taken away by one nosy worker and she had to admit to the foreman about her illegitimate child, her admittance (it's true that the child is my daughter...) was so subtle that you felt her fearfulness of what the foreman would do or the judgment on her character by her companions. This was the start of how I see she transformed from the scared, unsure character to the hopeless, lost lady of the night in the end. When she sang the beautiful Les Miz showstopper, I Dreamed A Dream, she went through a gamut of emotions from sadness to happiness or even a little glimmer of hope when she remembers about the man in her life who she thought loved her truly (I still I dream he will come to me... we will live the years together). Rachelle delivered the song so beautifully that I had tears in my eyes! Personally it was the most moving version of the song that I have heard in years! I wish that there was a studio recording of her version for me to play over and over. High notes were perfect especially when she sang that long money note (shaaaamme) while kneeling down! So beautifully executed by this compleat performer... And I love the fact that when she stood up, she came nearer to the stage to deliver the last part of the song with poignancy and hurt (So different from this hell I am living..). Her voice was strong and beautiful! When she exited the stage, thunderous clapping and rousing cheers came from the crowd! It was a such an amazing interpretation of this song that is considered to be a high point in any female musical theatre performer's career and Rachelle nailed it perfectly! Can I please have a copy of this to play over and over again, Les Miserables creative team. Brava, brava!
Now the next scene would focus on the gradual degradation of Fantine when she gets trapped into the world of prostitution due to her need to send money for Cossette. I felt her frustration and anger when she haggled for her wares and eventually selling her beautiful locks of hair. You can see how Rachelle delivers the character of Fantine gradually from a sweet naivete to a hardened woman without a strand of hope in her heart. I felt her pain as she tries to sell herself (come on captain.. you can wear your shoes...) as she walks with a limp, looking dishevelled and cheapened by the sexual trade. And when Bamatabois, a gentleman of the society, tries to buy Fantine's services, she attacks him fiercely after he mishandles her. This was followed by the intervention of Jean Valjean, now assuming the identity of the mayor, who asked Fantine how he can help. Here Rachelle showed her anger and frustration when she recalls the incident to him how he let his foreman dismiss her from the factory by spitting on Jean Valjean's face and singing beautifully her lines, money notes and all!! Amazing exchange of singing between Valjean and Fantine showed how hopeless she felt about her situation.
Now, the death bed scene is one of my most favourite scenes of Fantine. It either makes me love Fantine more or indifferent. I believe some of the most beautiful melody exchanges were written here between Valjean and Fantine. When Rachelle fell from the bed and started crawling because she was hallucinating and reaching out for Cossette, I really lost it! She was painfully realistic in her character that I wanted her to stand up and be strong for herself, but most of all, for Cossette. I felt her hopelessness at life in this scene as she sings her song beautifully! When Valjean laid her back on her bed, this is where I find Rachelle's voice so soothing. The exchange between Peter Lockyer's Valjean and Rachelle's Fantine showed two great singers/actors' subtle great delivery of singing and emotions. When she was able to extract a promise from Valjean, I could feel she found a tiny moment of happiness in her very sad state of life. And when she draws her last breath, she left the world with hope. She sang the last high note (when I waaakkke...) subtly and beautifully. When I saw Fantine drop her hand as she passes away, I was crying!! Superb acting and singing by Rachelle... Definitely a West End star was seen on stage before my very eyes!
Fantine's last scene in the final act was when she came back as a ghost to pick up Valjean so he can join God in heaven. Heartfelt and beautiful, I felt Rachelle's acting and singing was perfect to the max! There was a certain quiet angelicness in her singing and movement of body and hands. In her white flowing gown, she beckons Valjean to face her Creator. And when she took off Valjean's shawl from his shoulders to allow him to rise up as a soul released from his torment, I cried buckets of tears! When the whole ensemble came in subtly to build up the finale, you know that you have seen probably the best musical in the world.. Stellar cast, beautiful music, out of this world sets.. I came out of the Queens theatre ecstatic and floating. It was a most amazing night that I will remember in my life as a musical theatre enthusiast forever because that night, I saw Rachelle as Fantine and... my heart was full of love. - AlexZ.
[Editor's Note: Thanks to Alex of Toronto for contributing his blog to the Cafe, especially on Rachelle Ann Go's portrayal of Fantine in the musical. Incidentally, Ms. Go is also in the 2016 Asian tour cast performing in Manila, 2nd week of March. Break a leg!]