Belgian audience in for a treat with return of timeless Victor Hugo classic

It’s a story of love, injustice, redemption and hope and, after a 20-year gap, a new version of that great theatrical favourite, Les Miserables, is coming back to Belgium.

An exciting new adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel is set to delight audiences at Brussels’ Forest National next month.

The concert version of the show features an extraordinary cast of characters who struggle to survive in war-torn France.

It’s a largely French-born cast but taking the main role as Jean Valjean is a Belgian-born actor – Hans Peter Janssens who is from Brugge (though now he lives in Antwerp) and who, over the years, has made the role his own.

Unbelievably, it is no less than two decades since the show was last performed in Belgium and some 40 years after its world premier, in Paris.

Since then Les Mis, as it is affectionately known to its legions of fans, has gone on, of course, to become the world’s most popular musical.

The new musical version being performed in Brussels is adapted from Hugo’s thunderous novel and is a joint collaboration between Teatro Cinque and Cityprod.

It will feature 28 high level singers supported by a symphony orchestra who, together, will give life like never before to Claude-Michel Schonberg’s classic composition.

The imaginative set/decor also lends itself to an impressive backdrop for this timeless story.

Taking the lead role is Janssens, described as the “most Valjean of Valjeans” who first appeared in Les Mis in Antwerp in the 1990s and who has since gone on to enjoy great success on the stage.

He also reprised the same role in the West End of London for several seasons. In fact, Janssens still holds the world record for playing Valjean in the most successive shows. He is also the only actor to have played the two main male Les Mis characters (Valjean and Inspector Javert) on the West End stage.

The production is presented by Teatro Cinque in cooperation with Cityprod, in the original French but with sub titles in both Dutch and English.

With a striking intensity and relevance to us today, Victor Hugo’s novel is testimony to the struggles of France’s underclass and how far they must go to survive.

This adaptation of the renowned book promises to vividly and faithfully bring to life the vibrant and engaging characters, the spectacle and, above all, the incredible yet accessible story that was Hugo’s lifework.

Based on the classic 1862 novel and the classic Broadway and West End stage shows of the same name, Les Misérables is the story of Jean Valjean, a prisoner who breaks parole, and the police inspector, Javert, who tries to hunt him down for breaking parole. Javert vows to bring Valjean back to prison.

Les Miserables in the West End is the world’s longest running musical, according to the Guinness World Records.

It took writer Alain Boublil and composer Schonberg over two years of sweat and tears to turn this story of life on the French barricades at the time of the country’s revolution in 1848 into a musical.

Even then, it was not an overnight success.

Indeed,you have to pinch yourself to realise that, when it made its bow on the world stage – in Paris back in 1980 – it struggled to capture the imagination of audiences and critics alike.

The first show was not the success the producers had imagined and it was not until British impresario and theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh mounted a Les Mis production in London in 1983 that the show really took off.

The English version was, in fact, to prove the springboard for the incredible success that the show has become.

Les Mis has since enjoyed great success here in Belgium, as Music Hall CEO Geert Allaert recalls. He brought the show to Antwerp in 1998 where it ran for no less than nine months to great reviews and an audience of nearly 400,000.

The show, a true testament to the survival of the human  spirit, has been translated into 22 languages and the musical has been watched by some 70m spectators around the world.

In the version coming to Brussels next month, the role of Jaavert is played by Pierre-Michel Dudan, a baritone, while Fantine is played by Ita Graffin, a soprano.

Other key roles are played by a mostly (but not exclusive) French cast,include June Van der  Esch (Cosette); Jean-Christophe Borne ( Marius); Ronan Debois (Mr Thenardier) and Louis Bataille-Farges (Gavroche).

It is produced by Philippe Barreau who readily admits that mounting his first Les Mis production in 2017 was a “dream come true.”

The artistic director is Magda Hadnagy while her musical counterpart is Christian Cravero.

Executive producer Jean-François D’hondt took part in an exclusive Q and A with this website to explain why Belgian audiences should be so excited about this much-awaited version of a great musical favourite.

Q: The story of Les Mis has been told many times of course so what do you hope to bring to this production?

D’hondt: “Every time this classic is brought to the attention of a broader public that is a good thing. The themes are so human, broad and big that any way which it has been told is welcome.”

Q: Did you see the recent BBC TV production of Les Mis and if so, what did you think of it (of course, it had no music!)?

D’hondt: “I saw it. It was great, not least because of the casting. Again, it proved just how universal the story is.”

Q: Do you think the "Les Mis story" has any particular resonance with modern day audiences and, if so, in what way?

D’hondt: “It touches all kind of feelings that are not only historically accurate but are still very actual and close to what happens socially today.”

Q: Can you describe the preparation that has gone into this particular production?

D’hondt: “We rehearsed with a new symphonic orchestra and a Flemish singer/actor who will perform Jean Valjean so it’s going to be special and a brand new production.”

Q: Is there anything particularly "different" about this production ie from other productions of Les Mis, that the Belgian audience can look forward to?   

D’hondt: “The fact that the orchestra will be symphonic (ie bigger than the usual, smaller musical band) will make this a bigger event than usual. And the concert will be semi-staged, in costumes and acting the scenes out.”

Les Miserables en Concert is at Forest National at 8pm on 22 and 23 March.

Ticket and other info via: www.teleticketservice.com

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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