The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - GIL­LIAN CUMMING

Si­mon Glee­son has been pre­par­ing to play Jean Val­jean all his life. The boy from coun­try NSW had no inkling of his destiny, but like his com­mand­ing char­ac­ter in

Les Mis­er­ables, con­vic­tion and a strong heart – not to men­tion a good set of pipes – can make dreams come true. “I’ve been at­tached to Les

Mis­er­ables for decades – ever since I was 12,’’ says the 38year-old star of the Vic­tor Hugo mu­si­cal that ar­rives at Bris­bane’s QPAC next week.

“It was the first mu­si­cal I ever saw and the first mu­si­cal I ever did pro­fes­sion­ally. It’s al­ways had a big place in my heart and since do­ing it, that’s just grown.’’

Glee­son was 12 when he first heard the sound­track of

Les Mis­er­ables, one of the world’s great­est mu­si­cals and cer­tainly the longest run­ning, thanks to its en­dur­ing ap­peal.

By the time he en­tered the theatre to see the mu­si­cal’s orig­i­nal stag­ing in Mel­bourne 25 years ago, Glee­son knew word for word all the leg­endary songs, com­posed by Alain Bou­blil and ClaudeMichel Schon­berg.

“It was beau­ti­ful. It was great. It was the first mu­si­cal I saw live. I re­mem­ber sit­ting there with my sis­ter and lean­ing on the bal­cony in the front row of the dress cir­cle,’’ re­calls the 2015 Help­mann Award win­ner for best male ac­tor in a mu­si­cal.

“I don’t think I moved for the whole show. It cap­ti­vated me. Why a boy from coun­try NSW? Why did it catch me? I think it was be­cause it was about war and guns and big ideals and big singing.

“As a kid, there are a lot of he­roes in that show, and you get caught by that.’’

Less than a decade later 21year-old Glee­son won a part in the 1998-99 restag­ing of Les

Mis­er­ables that came to QPAC. It was his first pro­fes­sional pro­duc­tion.

And al­though he had dreamt of one day play­ing En­jol­ras, leader of the stu­dent rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies as a boy, when the mod­ernised and reen­er­gised show opens on Tues­day in QPAC’s Lyric Theatre, Glee­son will be cen­tre stage as the hero of French writer Hugo’s mas­sive tome of rev­o­lu­tion and re­demp­tion.

“Now I know that’s what the mu­si­cal is about – re­demp­tion,’’ Glee­son says.

To pre­pare to play Val­jean, Glee­son read Hugo’s 1300page work, a tear­away best­seller when first pub­lished in 1862, sev­eral times.

Set dur­ing the French rev­o­lu­tion, the sprawl­ing sto­ry­line cen­tres on the tur­bu­lent life and times of Jean Val­jean, who stole a loaf of bread. This 30th an­niver­sary pro­duc­tion has new set de­signs and new or­ches­tra­tion that up­dates its ’80s sen­ti­men­tal­ity with scores that are sharp and en­er­getic.

“To be able to keep your mind around that many char­ac­ters, and that much time in terms of the du­ra­tion of the story, is just huge,’’ Glee­son says. “There are a lot of sec­tions of the book that have ex­tra­or­di­nary de­tail ... which have noth­ing to do with the plot. But it’s a magic book. It’s stun­ning.’’ Glee­son is as much a fan of Schon­berg’s mu­sic as he is of Hugo’s ex­tra­or­di­nary opus. The French com­poser’s Tony Award-win­ning score, un­like the bel­lies of the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies of late 18th­cen­tury France that he writes about, bulges with a list that’s rich with hit songs.

“For me, it’s hard to top Bring Him Home,’’ says Glee­son of what is pos­si­bly the most heart-rend­ing song in the show. “I also love Empty Chairs at Empty Ta­bles. It’s beau­ti­ful. And Stars (sung by Val­jean’s life­long ad­ver­sary, po­lice in­spec­tor Javert, played by Hay­den Tee).

“And On My Own (Epo­nine’s solo) and Do You Hear the Peo­ple Sing? ... I don’t know how Schon­berg did it. And he didn’t just do it with this mu­si­cal. He turned around and did Miss Saigon.’’

He says lovers of Les Mis­er­ables won’t be dis­ap­pointed by the new stag­ing by pro­ducer Cameron Mack­in­tosh, un­der the di­rec­tion of Lau­rence Con­nor and James Pow­ell. This in­cludes Paule Con­sta­ble’s murky light­ing de­sign and the spec­tac­u­lar new set and im­age de­sign by an­other Brit, Matt Kin­ley, who has worked closely with Mack­in­tosh on many stage pro­duc­tions

Les Mis­er­ables, Lyric Theatre, QPAC, South Bris­bane, Tues­day to De­cem­ber 27


Si­mon Glee­son in the role of Jean Val­jean, with the cast of con­victs, in the theatre pro­duc­tion of Les Mis­er­ables.

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