For many years I was told by a work colleague "you must see 'Les Mis'. You really don't know what you are missing." Needless to say, I took little notice and it wasn't until the film version of Les Misérables, starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, was released that I finally succumbed and introduced myself to a musical which I fell truly, madly and deeply in love with.
My love affair with the musical hasn't waned and to say I was cock a hoop when I saw that Little Theatre Company Youth group were performing the school edition of Les Mis in my home town is a slight understatement to say the least.
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables follows the story of escaped convict Jean Valjean (Oliver Last) and his rise to factory owner and mayor with continual pursuit by Inspector Javert (Edward Watchman). One of Valjean's workers, Fantine (Scarlett Marchant), has a secret child Cosette (Emily Haywood) and when Fantine is dismissed from her job she ends up destitute and dying.
From top right, clockwise: Jim Haywood and Nina Ball as Monsieur and Madam Thenardier; Ewan Bourne and Katie Ireland as Marius and Eponine, and Scarlette Marchant as Fantine (Geoff Thompson)
Valjean makes her a promise to look after Cosette and does so by paying off her guardians, innkeepers Monsier and Madame Thenardier (Jim Haywood and Nina Ball). Ten years later there is unrest in Paris and here we are introduced to the older Cosette (Georga Ratcliffe), Thenardier's daughter Eponine (Katie Ireland), Gavroche (Jay Kennedy), and students Marius (Ewan Bourne) and Enjolras (Wil Pearson).
Eponine is in love with Marius but it is unrequited as he loves Cosette. However Eponine stands beside Marius to fight the revolution but the cost is dear, for all.
Oliver Last is hypnotising as Jean Valjean and surely a career on the West End awaits him? If not, I want to know why! Last's strength and control of voice is outstanding and I found him completely compelling in his role as the prisoner on a chain gang who breaks parole and betters himself.
Teamed with Edward Watchman who plays the menacing Javert to a tee, the pair really do make for a truly captivating and believable performance.
If anyone was born to play the part of the abusive but hilarious innkeeper Thenardier, it has to be Jim Haywood. Excellently cast alongside Nina Ball who plays his wife Madame Thenardier, the pair bring a convincing dark humour to the story.
LTC Youth is packed with home-grown talent and if I didn't know better I would think I had watched a professional production. From scene shifters to choreographer (Katie Haywood), from director (the ever-excellent John Bowness) to the gifted cast - many of them taking on several roles - the complete ensemble is pure perfection.
I found it impossible to hold back the tears at Scarlett Marchant's haunting rendition of I Dreamed a Dream. Mix that in with the hilarity of Master of the House where I giggled my way through the song, On My Own, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, Building the Barricades and the perfectly executed and spine-tingling Bring Him Home (Oliver Last) I spent the evening riding on a rollercoaster of emotions - and I loved every minute of it.
Outstanding performances from all on stage and LTC Youth have certainly done the biz with Les Mis!
Tickets for the production, which takes place at the Brewhouse Arts Centre, in Union Street, Burton, from until Saturday, April 22, are available by calling 01283 508100 or 01283 542446.
Shows begin at 7.30pm each evening, with Thursday and Saturday matinees taking place at 2.30pm.