Les Miserables is undisputedly one of the greatest novels of all times and its author Victor Hugo had said of it, “I don’t know whether it will be read by everyone, but it is meant for everyone. Social problems go beyond frontiers. Humankind’s wounds, those huge sores that litter the world, do not stop at the blue and red lines drawn on maps. Wherever men go in ignorance or despair, wherever women sell themselves for bread, wherever children lack a book to learn from or a warm hearth, Les Miserables knocks at the door and says: ‘open up, I am here for you’.”
No doubt our bittersweet TnT has been calling for this balm to salve our wounds and the Marionette’s Chorale under the artistic directorship of Caroline Taylor has very ambitiously provided the balm to assuage our national woes in bringing this epic novel to life in this wonderful musical production that is bound to bring comfort in troubled times.
Taylor has undoubtedly created a masterpiece of theatre on Trinidad soil that shall live in the memories of those audiences who attended last Sunday’s premiere performance.
From the very first note of the orchestra, the hearts of the audience were enthralled by performances that ranked with the international productions of London and New York. The integrity of the music was certainly maintained yet there were subtle orchestral manoeuvres that would certainly locate the musical in the Caribbean region. The interpretation in no way compromises the authenticity of the musical masterpiece but merely whispers Trinidad softly into the international melange that Les Miserables has become. The musical director is none other than Gretta Taylor. Incorporated into the regular orchestra are two string players on violin and viola visiting from the United States for the event, so there is international flavour and inputs from beyond our shores.
Set in early 19th-century France, it is the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant, and his quest for redemption after serving 19 years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread for his starving family. Valjean decides to break his parole and start his life anew after a kindly bishop inspires him by a tremendous act of mercy, but he is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector named Javert. Along the way, Valjean and a slew of characters are swept into a revolutionary period in France, where a group of young idealistic students make their last stand at a street barricade. Valjean is played by Nigel Floyd of the Marionettes Chorale, whose performance was robust during the gruelling tortured years of his youth, becoming tender and genteel as he emerges with grace in the denouement. A beautiful compassionate performance by Floyd, and we are yet to see Marlon DeBique who doubles as Jean Valjean during the week long performances. A complex character that demands everything from its actor.
Valjean’s alter ego Javert the police inspector is played by Marvin Smith of Quattro Musica group. Marvin has claimed the soul of Javert and has given an outstanding performance of this overzealous police inspector that lives to perform his duty and by so doing is prepared to cover every square inch of the wretched earth to find Jean Valjean and put him behind bars again. Fabulous energy and a total immersion into the character of Javert.
Madame Thenardier is most ably played by the director herself, Caroline Taylor. Taylor has an MA in drama from the University of London (Goldsmiths) and has also studied at the Lee Strasberg Film & Theatre Institute and Trinity/La MaMa Experimental Theatre Company in New York. A multiple scholarship winner who has performed with the Marionettes, her role as Madame Thenardier was colourful and fresh bringing comedic relief to a most intricate operetta.
The beautiful and melodious voices of Fantine, Eponine and Cosette were sweetly and powerfully rendered by Candice Alcantara, Aurora Tardieu, and Danielle Williams respectively, all belonging to the Marionette’s Chorale and all of whom did great justice to their parts. The play is full of wonderful performances such as that played by Raguel Gabriel who plays Marius tenderly and forcefully, as well as the Bishop who is played by Errol James. David Stephens’ inimitable performance as the colourful broad character of Monsieur Thenardier was at once riotous and exquisitely executed.
And not in the least, but certainly the littlest of the people, Gavroche played by a little girl Elise Blanc, and young Cosette, played by Annalise Emmanuel, both give us enchanting performances that are distinctive and certainly matches up to the high standard set by their fellow performers. Impressive celestial voices showing us what little people can do and bringing us to such heights of pathos as when our darling Gavroche is taken at the barricade and the audience is overwhelmed with a grief that can’t be spoken as Gavroche renders his last song. These two most important roles are played by two lovely little demoiselles.
Last evening’s performance was a breath of fresh air flowing through Trinidad and surpassed the expectations of the audience. The crowning glory was that the entire cast was met by a standing ovation from difficult critics, many of whom had seen other stage and filmed versions – and who were willing to endorse that “THIS WAS A PERFORMANCE PAR EXCELLENCE.”
The show is on this Thursday through Sunday, at Queen’s Hall. Congratulations to the Marionettes for its vision and audacity in bringing to life this wonderful production in all its refinement. The human spirit has triumphed in this gargantuan task and has seamlessly brought the magic of Les Miserables safely down on Trinidad soil for all of us to enjoy.
– By Sonja Gopeesingh–Luckhoo
Trinidad & Tobago Express (Lifestyle Section, page 21), Wednesday 16th July, 2014