TWIST OF FATE
SIMON GLEESON'S DREAMS CAME TRUE WHEN HE SCORED LES MISERABLES ROLE
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
IT WAS THE FIRST MUSICAL I SAW LIVE ... THERE ARE A LOT OF HEROES IN THAT SHOW, AND YOU GET CAUGHT BY THAT
Simon Gleeson in the role of Jean Valjean, with the cast of convicts, in the theatre production of Les Miserables.