Blenheim Musical Theatre 2022 Les Miserables Review
By: Christopher Cookson
Last Modified: 20-5-2022 20:14
I remember 1995 well for several reasons. I turned twenty four that year, and joined the orchestra for the epic show, Les Miserables, put on by Blenheim Operatic Society, as it was known then (now Blenheim Musical Theatre). I played second violin, with the programme listing four of us violinists. I still have the programme somewhere. Even back then, there was a shortage of string players, so several people played string parts on keyboards. I have one of the keyboards that were used sitting in my lounge, and periodically gets used to run through some of the tunes. Apparently, Vangelis, the composer of Chariots of Fire, who died this week, owned several of these same keyboards, but I count myself lucky to have one, and only because it was going cheap second hand.
The other thing about 1995 was that it was the last year that I had two ears. In July 1996 I caught meningitis, and nearly died, but came away relatively unscathed, apart from losing all hearing in one ear. That was pretty devastating for a musician as it eliminated any sense of directional hearing, and it took me almost a year to get my balance back. Even now, my sense of balance isn’t what it was.
Eventually I gained enough confidence to play music with others again, and in 2002 I played for one more show, Showboat, but there was something special about Les Miserables that was never repeated.
When I heard that Blenheim Musical Theatre was going to be doing Les Miserables again, my heart leaped, and I seriously considered auditioning for the orchestra. Unfortunately 2021 and 2022 have been awful years for various reasons, with Dad, himself a former musician in various shows, suffering accelerating physical and mental decline, culminating in him ending up in hospital, and then in care. Early in 2022, my wife had a biopsy, and the result wasn’t good. That was the end of any thought of orchestra. In addition to all that, I have a young only daughter, and I’ve made the vow to be there for her no matter what, until she’s old enough to tell me she’s ok with me going off to do stuff like shows.
On my birthday, my wife was only a few days out of hospital from surgery, needing to rest up, and unable to drive, so her only opportunity for birthday shopping was online. On a very subdued birthday, she presented me with a ticket for Les Miserables.
I don’t think she could have chosen better.
She only bought one ticket, and I went alone, but as her recovery has progressed and she returned to work, some tickets became available through work, so that she actually had the opportunity to see the show the night before me.
That Les Miserables even happened this year with Covid rampant in the community is something of a miracle.
There’s something about Les Miserables which makes it stand out from many other shows. All shows are fun and entertaining, but the story of Les Miserables, of the triumph of goodness over adversity and evil, of getting a second chance in life and making good of it, is something that stands out. People talk about ‘feel good’ movies. Les Miserables is the ultimate ‘feel good’ musical.
As I entered Blenheim’s purpose built theatre, a far cry from the converted supermarket where I’d previously played in the same show, I met the musical director and Cosette from my time on the show, also attending as audience members.
I had a seat near the middle of the theatre only four rows from the front, which afforded an excellent view. I remember in my time, there had been a few glitches with the sound system in the old theatre, but this time things went largely smoothly, and even with one ear, the sound was impressive.
I was a bit disappointed this time that there was no overture, as I mentally went through the tunes in my head, trying to recall which instruments played which part, and when I should have been coming in. Sadly the numbers were down quite a bit, with only one real violin this time.
The music sounded a bit thin as a result, as although keyboard string sounds have improved no end since 1995, keyboards are still keyboards, and can’t replicate the dynamics and acoustics of a real violin. I felt torn, on one hand wishing that I could be down in the orchestra pit helping create a richer sound, but at the same time glad to be able to sit back and enjoy the spectacle with no responsibilities.
And spectacle it was in no uncertain terms. With a purpose build theatre with fly towers and lighting with no compromise, what was a great show last time was fantastic second time around. The set and costumes were exquisite, and the villainous Thenardiers just about stole the show, although I did think last time they were maybe a bit more on key, but hey, it’s probably part of being a villain to have a gravelly, slightly off key voice so it wasn’t out of place. To be honest, all the principle characters were great, and Spencer Kingi was stunning exchanging his daytime role of upholding the law to become Jean Valjean, the one pursued by the law, reprising his role on the chain gang from 27 years ago, but this time as a principal character rather than just one of the convicts, and in a fitting tribute to his late father Joe who was part of the show last time.
Some of the words of the finale brought tears to my eyes, as I remembered the turmoil in my own life over the last few months, with Dad’s rapidly fading health, and my wife’s frightening diagnosis.
A friend commented to me just a couple of months back, that when you’re going through dark times, look for the light.
In the words of the finale:
Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.
No other show has done that to me.
Cite this page
Cookson, C. (2022). Blenheim Musical Theatre 2022 Les Miserables Review. Retrieved December, 5, 2023, from https://www.marlboroughonline.co.nz/marlborough/information/commentary/blenheim-musical-theatre-les-miserables-review/
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