Running 16 to 25 October, Les Mis The Concert attracted packed auditoriums, standing ovations, and rave reviews. Tickets were on sale from $8 to $16, with a free drink. Word spread quickly that this was a ‘don’t miss’ show and the theatre grew fuller and fuller with every performance. By the end of its run, Les Mis was 2014’s best selling show with 2,200 tickets sold, a boon for the struggling theatre, which is an important a landmark on Harare’s dramatic scene.
Founded in 1931, Reps Theatre constantly battles to cover its significant costs and sustain itself. An amateur theatre company whose actors and crews put on plays and shows year round for the sheer pleasure of it alone, Reps survives on members’ annual subscriptions, bar profits, theatre rental fees, and most importantly, ticket sales. Thus it is essential to select some shows annually to attract really big audiences. Last year’s Reps production of The Sound of Music proved the pulling power of perennial global musical favourites which run for years, even decades, in London’s West End or on New York’s Broadway. Seasoned Reps actor/director Sue Bolt undoubtedly picked another winner with this ambitious project – bringing world blockbuster musical ‘Les Miserables’ (Les Mis) The Concert to Harare.
Based on the classic Victor Hugo novel of the same name, its content is loaded with tragedy, suffering, and loss. Set during the several decades of instability, revolution, brutal repression, uprising, and ultimate triumphant birth of democracy in France, the audience-pulling power of Les Mis is undeniable. The plot is fast-paced, gripping and thought-provoking, the songs excellent and familiar to most people even if they have not seen the show. For those seeking not just to be entertained and moved, but to see shows with multiple layers of deeper meaning and social commentary, Les Mis hits the mark. Its appeal is very broad, and this Reps production – widely hailed as one of the theatre’s best ever – proved it.
Every revolution has its downtrodden masses, cruel oppressors, cunning opportunists and self-sacrificial heroes. In Les Mis, we find them all, and well-characterised. There is long-suffering Valjean (Alex Fairlie) with his brave, good heart and search for redemption; Police Chief Javert, powerfully played by David Bvumbe, with his misguided adherence to laws protecting the interests of the ruling rich; the Thenadier couple (Martin Bolt and Caroline Yule were hilarious) driven only by self-interest; tragic Fantine (Jeanne Lister), the destitute unmarried mother who prostitutes herself; her young daughter Cosette (Savannah Bester), abused by the Thenadiers in whose care she is put for a fee; the feisty students with their revolutionary spirit and willingness to die for their cause – it is all there. Many in this show’s audiences openly confessed to weeping either intermittently or almost continuously. It definitely hit its mark. There are, thankfully, also moments of comic relief!
Meg Mackenzie did a sterling job with musical direction, with Natalie Carroll on piano joined by keyboard players and percussionist Tendai and Nothando Mhlanga and Sergio Fernandes. Good orchestral backing is essential to a successful show, and this small, gifted group created the sound of a proficient full orchestra! With strong leading singers and performers, the huge and diverse cast that included relative newcomers (including myself!) was able to approach the show with gusto.
The call to audition for a show of this stature and world-wide success was irresistible; it was ‘caution to the winds’ and full-on commitment to a demanding rehearsal schedule and run; bone-aching exhaustion combined with an adrenaline high; a great experience on so many levels! Cast and crew, numbering over 60, were a delightful bunch of interesting, friendly people of all ages, from disparate places. There was a great sense of community, a wonderful learning curve, and above all, it was great fun. Signing up for a Reps show is an experience I heartily endorse – hard work and long hours notwithstanding.
Next at Reps: 4–21 Dec: The Christmas Pantomime, Sleeping Beauty. Tickets $6–$14. A family show directed by Graham Crutchley.