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Well, here is another one of THOSE reviews....

Better Safe Than Sorry

Les Miserables, Theatre Royal, Sydney, Australia

David and Natalie in "A Little Fall of Rain"IF your humble servant is any litmus test, then the backers of this Tenth Anniversary season are going to be up against it to win over a new audience to big production musicals.

Ten years on and beyond the barricades, the peasants are still revolting, and the music isn't much better. It may be sacrilege to say so, but I walked in with an open mind only to leave, three-and a-quarter hours later, with "never again" stamped across my forehead.

As you'd hope for the ticket price, the spectacle is still there, and the production is big and lavish, the lighting and staging often ingenious and always engaging. A committed and enthusiastic cast try their darnedest to breathe some of that special musical magic into the meandering travails of Jean Valjean, Javert, Marius, Cosette and Eponine. Competence is evident across the board, but international Les Mis veterans Michael McCarthy (Javert) and Dave Willetts (Valjean) stand out in the crucial roles. Natalie Mendoza, as the tragic Eponine, also displays an engaging charm and a fine voice.

As for the drama, it is all so predictable, pedestrian and perfunctory that it drives me to gratuitous alliteration. Neither the broad-brush backdrop of popular uprising in the slums of Paris in the 183Os, nor the central dramas of Valjean's moral progress or the love triangle between Marius, Cosette and Eponine, manage to muster much emotion or even empathy. And there's just no escaping that saccharine, soporific score.

The real tragedy seems to be that Victor Hugo, a key figure in 19th century realism, should see his master-work end up 100 years after his death as the fodder for heavy-handed fantasies about the, innate nobility of poverty, or sugar-coated morality tales pitched barely one step beyond soap opera.

Of course if you’re a fan, or just a punter seeking safe, secure spectacle, it will take more than mere naysaying to stop you. This highly professional production will no doubt fill houses till the caravan moves on. As to why, I have no idea.

T-shirts, caps and coffee mugs in the foyer.

Michael Hutak, The Sydney Sun Herald December 7, 1997