Les Miserables which opens tonight and ends on Sunday, is produced by the Marionettes Chorale and made possible by its title sponsor bptt, Flow TT, the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism, First Citizens and the National Lotteries Control Board.
Last year, Les Miserables received wide acclaim. Reviews defined, last year’s run, as a masterpiece and there is little doubt that they would be hard-pressed to say otherwise this year.
And for two of its male leads, Marvin Smith who plays fanatic police inspector, Javert, and Raguel Gabriel who plays young law student Marius Pontmercy, the play reminds of the life lessons often forgotten. Both Smith and Gabriel reprise their roles from last year.
For 30-year-old Gabriel, the musical runs parallel to life happenings not only in TT but in his own life. Even though, when he first auditioned for the musical last year January, he knew little of it, his fascination grew especially when he sang, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”. The character he described as passionate, in a telephone interview, brought to the fore his own pain, having lost his father.
In Marius, there are shadowy reminders of all that he is, lurking. “He is a somewhat head-strong kind of guy. I am somewhat like that- not in everything though. He is an extremely passionate guy too – he feels easily. That is why I wanted to do that character –he is vulnerable.”
Marius’ music, for Gabriel, makes the world disappear. “He has the most beautiful music to sing. The minute I start to sing his words, the world disappears, particularly when I sing ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’,” he said.
“I have a pain. I understand pain. I understand where that pain is coming from in that song – having lost my father as well. It brings up a lot for me,” paralleling the loss Marius feels for his friends to the loss he experienced when his father died.
The singer, who hopes to further his acting career, had his “first big break” five years ago when he became an understudy for Tony in popular musical West Side Story. He said, he was very green but could sing. He became the lead in eight of the 12 performances.
In order to improve his singing abilities in 2011, Gabriel trained with June Nathaniel- the director of The Key Academy of Music. From there he became a part of the Young Artists Collective and a member of the Classical Music Development Foundation of T&T. “I began doing operatic productions from there,” he said.
Gabriel hopes to one day become an actor, acting on a stage and possible even winning a Tony away-the highest acclaim anyone in theatre can receive.
This dream led him into a three-month dramatic training course at the Necessary Arts with acclaimed local actress, Penelope Spencer in early 2012. He also travelled to the United Kingdom where he did a two-week intensive at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. “That opened me up there. They were so serious about it-I never experienced that. You were literally under pressure ten hours a day.”
So he hopes sometime this year-although he was unable to say when-to travel abroad to further his dramatic training.
“I believe this is very poignant right now. I was listening to some radio talk shows with my mom and in TT right now, we’re fighting for the same thing the young men in the play were fighting for. The young men stand up for something and no one fights with them. The poor seems to be getting poorer and no one is standing up. That is the parallel of the play to TT. It is so important to show love and support.
“This is not just a love story, it is so much deeper than that. There is a lot of pain and a theme of forgiveness. It shows how important love and life is,” he said.
For Smith, always seeking the positive, the musical teaches, he said, that change is possible. The 43-year-old singer has been doing productions for over ten years now. Smith first appeared in the local adaptation of Porgy and Bess in 2005. When local opera singer Anne Fridal took an interest in Smith’s singing he was encouraged to develop his abilities further. Since then Smith has been to Hungary and London honing his talent and ability. He got the part when he auditioned for artistic director Caroline Taylor and musical director Gretta Taylor, last year.
While to some, Javert, might appear to be villainous, Smith said he is the kind of character, “who puts his heart and soul into his job.”
The villainy of it comes as Javert becomes consumed with the pursuit and punishment of protagonist, Jean Valjean. Although Valjean is an escaped convict, he turned his life around. “In a big way he comes across as the villain. You know and love the star. He wants to put a good person in jail. But you also understand that he is trying to get his job done,” Smith said of his character.
Ever seeking the positive, Smith said his favourite song is “Stars” because, “it allows him to express in song the feelings of the character in an entire song...It is the first time you get to see the inspector as more human.”
About the musical
Les Miserables has been defined as one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. According to www.lesmis.com, the play has been translated into 22 different languages; had productions played in 42 different countries and 319 cities; has played over 48,000 professional performances giving a total audience figure of more than 70 million people worldwide and the London production of Les Miserables is the world’s longest running musical where it played 7,602 performances at the Palace Theatre before transferring to the Queen’s Theatre where it opened on April 3, 2004.