This prompted me to organise another trip, and why not to Les Mis, another long running show? I was quite shocked at the response I got back from the list – it was one of my quickest movers though, that honour is now split between "Jerusalem", "Matilda" and "The Book of Mormon".
The crowd that attended was also quite different, especially one rather tall rugby type who I had assumed had been dragged along by his girlfriend. Making polite conversation it then transpired that he was the musical hound and this would be his eleventh trip – to Les Miserable. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Multiple musical trips are the norm amongst committed theatre goers, and this show exemplifies why.
For the uninitiated, the musical is based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel and follows the rather unfortunate Jean Valjean (24601 – sung by a dramatic tenor) who is pursued by the relentless Inspector Javert for jumping parole (never mind the 19 years already served for stealing some bread to feed a starving child). As the years progress, Valjean assumes another identity after being given a helping hand by a bishop and establishes himself as a factory owner and Mayor of a town. But soon he is on the run again, this time with a young child. I am not going to go over the whole story; suffice to say that having seen it back in May and then being invited to see it again this week, it still managed to move me.
It is this emotional connection that keeps the crowds coming back. Producers can spend money ad infinitum and hire all the big name stars that they can muster, but without its soul, seats will be empty and word of mouth will kill the show. The combination of a gripping story, characters that you feel for, costumes, choreography and a magnificent set are topped off with a set of memorable songs that set the tone perfectly. It is very much more than the sum of its parts. There was laughter during Master of the House, tears during A Little Fall of Rain (not from me, I'm a hard man from South London) and near torrents at the end. Then a full house standing ovation and three curtain calls. The clapping only stopped when the lights came on, and all of this on a Wednesday night.
Is this better than Phantom or Matilda? That is a question that cannot really be answered. However what I can say is that I have no qualms paying for a full price ticket for a show like this, and that I will be booking this for a list again. That should be indication enough. But I still don’t like musicals, if anyone asks.