Thirty years and counting
Warren Kimmel as Javert in Arts Club Theatre’s Les Misérables. (photo by Ross den Otter)
This October will mark the 30th anniversary of one of the most adored, reproduced, translated and recorded performances of our time.
If you are one of the few who has not seen Les Misérables, take the opportunity now and head down to the Arts Club presentation, which is on at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until Aug. 16. Even if you have seen Les Mis before, this production is worth catching for a number of reasons, not the least of which is seeing Warren Kimmel display his musical prowess on stage.
Les Mis opened in London with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985 and has been seen by more than 70 million people worldwide. In the Arts Club version, Kimmel stars as the policeman Javert who has committed his life to capturing prisoner Jean Valjean. Kimmel reveals on his website that he is surprised that this is the role he ended up in, but happy to be finally doing the show.
“It was the thing to see when I was leaving school and going to university … and, when I graduated from drama school, it was top of my list,” he writes. “For one reason or another, I have either declined, missed or chosen not to be a part of many productions. All of those decisions were mistakes in my opinion but I have finally been sucked into the vortex. And, to boot, I am playing the last character I ever imagined I would be. Great hat though!”
The award-winning Kimmel is one of a stellar cast of singers who hardly have a fault among them, and their performances are stirring – from the mournful “I Dreamed a Dream” to the rousing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” to the plaintive “Bring Him Home.” (I dare you not to shed a tear during this heartrending rendition by Kieran Martin Murphy.)
Even a tiny bit by ensemble member Kevin Michael Cripps as Bishop Myriel stands out as a memorable performance. And Kimmel’s interpretation of “Stars” certainly holds its own against that of any of the other Javerts in the musical’s history.
Many people think that Les Misérables was written about the French Revolution of 1789. In fact, the story centres on a lesser-known republican rebellion that took place in 1832. Like a fire that appears to have been squelched but comes back to life after a time, the 1832 insurrection was a reigniting of leftover anger from a larger rebellion in July 1830 that saw the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy.
The story’s author, Victor Hugo, was on his way home when he was caught in the crossfire in 1832, stuck in an alley behind the barricades that are a key element in the musical. Though originally a staunch monarchist, he became a republican supporter and, 30 years after his experience, he wrote the novel, which is still required reading in many French schools.
So popular has this story been that the musical has been translated into 22 languages. For a taste of some of these, including songs in Swedish, Japanese, Polish and Norwegian, watch “Do you hear the people sing: Sung by 17 Valjeans from around the world” on YouTube.
Though it’s normally performed in large theatres with the capacity for several thousand, the production translates very well onto a smaller stage, and I think the intimate location makes for an even better experience. It has been six years since it played at the Arts Club, and who knows when it will be back? Don’t miss the opportunity.
Baila Lazarus is a freelance writer and media trainer in Vancouver. Her consulting work can be seen at phase2coaching.com.