Before we start talking more about the movie … and even the anniversary concerts I wanted to have a special post about the Original Cast. I wish I could say that I was in London and saw the Original London cast at the Barbican Theatre. The fact that I was 12 years old and living on the other side of the world might have something to do with it … but hey I would have loved to have seen that production. But while I was not able to go and see the show … one of my favourite pieces from my musical theatre memorabilia collection (yes I do have a musical theatre memorabilia collection that has been put together over the years) is my programs from the Original London Cast from both the Barbican Theatre (pictures taken from this program) and the Palace Theatre. Maybe it is my age and the way things were back then … in the old days before the internet, CDs and DVDs … but the Original Cast holds a very special place in my heart. So for today I want to take a stroll down memory lane and celebrate all that was and is wonderful about the Original London Cast of Les Misérables.
Original French Production
Many people do not know that before the london production in 1985 there was a French production in 1980. The show was a success, with 100 performances seen by over 500,000 people. It is worth noting however that the production that we know and love is not just a simple translation from the Original French Production. That is why I … and many people consider it almost a different show. The English language version, with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and additional material by James Fenton, was substantially expanded and reworked from a literal translation by Siobhan Bracke of the original Paris version, in particular adding a prologue to tell Jean Valjean’s backstory. Kretzmer’s work is not a direct “translation” of the French, a term that Kretzmer has refused to use. A third of the English lyrics were a “rough” translation, another third were adapted from the French lyrics and the final third consisted of new material. So while it is part of the history and the formation of what became Les Mis … it was not Les Mis.
Original London production
The first production in English, produced by Cameron Mackintosh and adapted and directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird, opened on 8 October 1985. It was billed in the Theatre programme as “The Royal Shakespeare Company presentation of the RSC/Cameron Mackintosh production”, and played to preview performances beginning on 28 September 1985. The original London cast included Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, Roger Allam as Javert, Ken Caswell as the Bishop of Digne, Patti LuPone as Fantine, Zoë Hart, Jayne O’Mahony and Joanne Woodcock as Young Cosette, Danielle Akers, Gillian Brander and Juliette Caton as Young Éponine, Susan Jane Tanner as Madame Thénardier, Alun Armstrong as Thénardier, Frances Ruffelle as Éponine, Rebecca Caine as Cosette, Michael Ball as Marius, David Burt as Enjolras, with Ian Tucker, Oliver Spencer and Liza Hayden sharing the role of Gavroche. The set was designed by John Napier, costumes by Andreane Neofitou and lighting by David Hersey. Musical supervision and orchestrations were by John Cameron. Musical staging was by Kate Flatt with musical direction by Martin Koch.
Many people also don’t know that the production was at the Barbican for only a short run. On 4 December 1985, the show transferred to the Palace Theatre, London and remained there until 3 April 2004. However while the run was short it has generated substantial income over the years for the Royal Shakespeare Company and helped it through many lean years. One of the many hidden gifts from Les Mis.
I have found a rare video on Youtube celebrating the opening of Les Mis. It is a TV segment presented by Joan Bakewell featuring rare rehearsal footage of Frances Ruffelle, Rebecca Caine, and Michael Ball, and Opening Night interviews with Frances Ruffelle, Rebecca Caine, Michael Ball, Colm Wilkinson, and Alun Armstrong. The program also includes interviews with Trevor Nunn, John Caird, and John Napier. I love watching this … you can just see that they have no idea on how HUGE this is going to become.
I really liked that at the 25th Anniversary Concert that they included a encore with many of the original 1985 London Cast. It was nice that they did homage to where it all started.
I wish they could have done this movie 20 years ago.