Alfie Boe is Jean Val Jean, a quote from a previous feature and interview (2015, no less!) as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations of Les Miserables, Club 24601 (forever indebted to Peter Lockyer for that title). I was lucky enough to see the all star Les Mis concert at the Gielgud theatre this week and, although my last blog for Alfie and thoughtsofjustafan was five months ago, my reaction was so strong that I simply had to review the show.
Seven years ago, I discovered the voice of Alfie Boe through, like a lot of fans, the 25th anniversary concert of Les Mis which was sadly far too late to see him in the role of Jean Val Jean (JVJ). Roll forward to 2015 and the next part of his journey in Les Mis was on Broadway and I wasn’t able to attend. Convinced that my chance had gone and seeing Alfie as JVJ would be filed under ‘what ifs’, you can imagine how thrilled I was to know that Alfie would again reprise the role that catapulted him to fame, and this time in London. Seven years waiting…and it was everything I expected and a whole lot more.
From the moment that Alfie first appears, he commands the stage; you feel the mixture of anger and fear from the off. The voice was never in doubt and is as rich as you would expect but Alfie’s characterisation takes his vocal performance to a whole new level. In the Club 24601 interview, Alfie singled out the soliloquy as his favourite song to sing because “It’s a real embracing of emotion, expressing the emotion to the audience. I put a lot into those moments, anxiety, fear, passion to reach an understanding of who he is as a character, so I really like that moment in particular.” This is the moment when you first see the possibility of redemption in JVJ and Alfie’s acting skills come to the fore and he transforms from the angry parolee weighed down by life into someone moving onto a new life.
Alfie’s vocal skills aside, I felt that from the beginning to the end, Alfie inhabited the role of JVJ. We watch as his demeanour changes from world weary prisoner and parolee to upstanding member of society before discovering love through parenting Cosette and the descent once more into pain and loss. Throughout the show we see that fear never leaves the character, underlying everything is the fear that he will be found and he will lose Cosette. The physical change in Alfie from the barricade toughness to the loss of the only thing he ever loved is heartrending to witness. In that one scene he is defeated and reverts to the JVJ we met in scene one; his whole body becomes that of an old man with nothing and no one to live for.
Another song that Alfie referenced as being one he enjoyed singing was the epilogue, where again, JVJ is moving towards redemption, at least in his own mind, this time in death and the glory of life everlasting. This poignant scene was played to perfection, with Alfie portraying the swirl of emotions from peace, expectation of being lifted to glory and the palpable relief when Cosette returns to him one last time. Audible tears were heard throughout the theatre. The only other stage role I’ve seen Alfie in was Billy Bigelow in Carousel and he was most convincing in that character’s move towards redemption; perhaps the exploration of redemption is the hook that keeps Alfie returning to the role.
Michael Ball as Javert is outstanding. He plays the part extremely well and, for me, is the best portrayal of Javert’s inner conflict over JVJ’s redemption I’ve ever seen. Javert’s anguish is awful to watch and rightly causes the audience to genuinely mourn his death through suicide. Carrie Hope-Fletcher and Rob Houchen were splendid and of course Matt Lucas and Katy Secombe as the Thenardiers were brilliant. Matt’s voice was always wonderful but it’s gained an extra depth since he first took the role whilst his partnership with Katy is sublime – these roles are made for them.
However, of the rest of the cast, the actors that most impressed me were Bradley Jaden as Enjolras and Shan Ako as Eponine. Eponine has always been my favourite character (she has two of my favourite songs) and Shan brought just the right touch of bravado and vulnerability to the role whilst also possessing a really lovely voice. Bradley not only looks the part of Enjolras but has a wonderfully rich voice that should hopefully see him become much more well known in the world of theatre.
Photo: Seamus Ryan
Overall, the show more than surpassed my expectations and I’m hard pressed to think how it could be bettered; this is one of those rare moments in theatre which is perfect. Everyone is magnificent, from the lighting becoming part of the set, to the orchestra and emsemble cast. Do whatever you have to do to see this show – it’s the best I’ve ever seen.
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