Last year, Minnetonka High School brought the school edition of Les Misérables to Edinburgh as part of the American High School Theatre Festival, and to say the least I was blown away. So the bar has been set for impossibly high for any school group, and that, in part, is why this Hammond School production slightly disappoints. Dont get me wrong if my own High School had managed to come up with anything on this kind of grand scale, Id have been awe-struck. But in the wake of the Minnetonka production who are playing on the same field as Hammond it just falls a little flat.
Les Misérables, for those that have been living under a rock for the last 21 years whilst it has been merrily racking up records as the longest-running musical in the West End, is based on the 1862 Victor Hugo novel dealing with absolution and passion against a backdrop of a bloody battle amongst Parisian students and state. It follows the story of ex-convict, Jean Valjean, on the run and pursued by Inspector Javert; Valjeans ward, Cosette and her lover Marius, who is embroiled in the uprising. Its a weighty subject for a musical, but one that has proved as one of the most successful in the world.
In this production, director Linda Khoury does a decent job in realising Boublil and Schonbergs lavish work on stage, but the backing of a single piano does make the accompaniment rather thin and two-dimensional. The grand swells of the orchestrations are notable by their absence, and it is only in the ensemble work that the casts voices by their sheer number overcome this problem.
The lighting concept is clever using bold colour washes on the cyc cloth backdrop, but in attempting to avoid spill onto that motif, occasionally some of the cast are standing in shadows.
It is a testament then, to the talent of these kids that bar a couple of pitch problems, the only real criticisms are none of their doing. There are some fine voices on display here, such as Will McCarthy as Javert and Christopher Wells as Enjolras. The Peoples Song, in particular, was predictably a real crowd pleaser.
Overall, its not a bad production but Hammond School are probably cursing Minnetonka for queering the pitch for them after last years fantastic show.