Review: Youth production of Les Miserables is a marvel

Students from Hillcrest Special School will perform ancient Greek myth Theseus and the Minotaur
Students from Hillcrest Special School will perform ancient Greek myth Theseus and the Minotaur

IT’S a global phenomenon, one of the most popular musicals of all time and the Hemel Hempstead Theatre Company Youth Group opened their production of the granddaddy of them all – Les Miserables – to a packed house, writes Nicolas Curtis

Directed by the youthful Dan Cowtan, a graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music, the show blasts open as the convicts smash though the entrance hall doors, pound down the central aisle and run onto the stage.

Still reeling from such a powerful start we meet the tormented Jean Valjean who, played by the 18-year-old George Watkins, is dishevelled and angry but a powerful presence.

Despite his youth George commands the stage, he has the physique, the voice and none of the gaucheness you’d expect from someone who only reached his majority in December.

In fact watching him you’d be forgiven for thinking you were at a professional production of Les Mis and not the schools’ edition where the entire cast have to be under the age of 19.

Similarly impressive is Joshua Pelligrini who plays Valjean’s antithesis the police officer Javert.

This former Cavendish School pupil who now studies at university in Winchester also belies his 18 years in a phenomenally mature performance.

The young Hemel man who knew all his words by the first rehearsal has never before had a singing lesson yet is pitch perfect and powerful as Valjean’s nemesis.

The production moves quickly, within minutes we’re introduced to an array of characters – from convicts and prostitutes, to factory workers, to the police – all against the backdrop of Schonberg’s rhythmic, pounding score.

It’s soon years later and Valjean is now a wealthy factory owner and Fantine, one of his former workers.

At just 17 and still a pupil at Hemel Hempstead School Casey Bird who plays the part is another pro.

With a crystal clear voice her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream is confident and assured and she can act too.

The scene between her and Valjean just before she dies is tender and touching, clearly showing the range of the young actors who can do so much more than just belt out the power ballads.

If fact the whole cast are impressive from the smallest, youngest members who make up the ensemble to the older crew who take on the key roles.

Their energy and enthusiasm is palpable with each one pouring heart and soul into their performance.

HHTC’s youth production of the epic tearjerker certainly moved many of the audience, and they weren’t just the parents, on opening night.

A talented group of youngsters, aided by a great set, good tunes and some inspired direction resulted in a fabulous performance with the standing ovation at the end very definitely deserved by all involved.