Theatre | Les Miserables | Ken Longworth

LES MISERABLES: Rachel Parish (Fantine), Chris Maxfield (Jean Valjean) and Stephanie Priest (Eponine) in Metropolitan Players' production.
LES MISERABLES: Rachel Parish (Fantine), Chris Maxfield (Jean Valjean) and Stephanie Priest (Eponine) in Metropolitan Players' production.

WHEN Chris Maxfield’s work led him to move to Newcastle in 2000, he auditioned for and won the leading role of Jean Valjean in a large-scale production of the musical Les Miserables that was being staged by the Civic Theatre.

Maxfield told friends last year that he had decided to retire from theatre, but when Metropolitan Players subsequently announced that it would be staging the musical at the Civic in August this year he decided to again audition for Jean Valjean because he had so enjoyed bringing the character to life in that other production.

So he is again playing the central character in Les Miserables, a peasant who is released from a French jail after being imprisoned for 19 years, and who becomes the mayor of a small town, helping to improve the lives of its needy residents, despite the efforts of a police inspector to find him guilty of a criminal offence. Jean Valjean also supports a student-led revolt in Paris against officials who oppress the poor.

Les Miserables, which opens at the Civic Theatre on August 16, is one of the most popular musicals ever presented. It was adapted by a French team from the classic novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, with an English libretto put together when it was picked up for staging in London.

The show opened in London on October 8, 1985, and is still playing there.

Victor Hugo drew on real events in putting the story together, with the revolt based on the 1832 Paris uprising. So the story’s characters include many down-to earth people. Inspector Javert (played by Simon Redhead) puts the law above everything else; Fantine (Rachel Parish) is an impoverished and mistreated factory worker; Cosette (Chloe Jeffery-Williams), Fantine’s daughter, is fortunate to come under the protective care of Valjean; Eponine (Stephanie Priest), is the daughter of unscrupulous thieves, the Thenardiers (Tony Fletcher and Annie Devine), and is forced into robbery by her parents; both the young women are attracted to student revolutionary Marius (Luke Baker), who is a friend of the charismatic student leader, Enjolras (Peter Willis). Other key characters include street urchin Gavroche (Timothy Davies), and Cosette and Eponine in their childhoods (Frankie Parris; Zamika Grant). They are supported by a 37-member ensemble. Julie Black directs, with Greg Paterson leading a 25-piece orchestra.

Chris Maxfield sees Valjean as being a lost soul who is trying to find himself after being jailed when young for stealing food to save his starving family.

Les Miserables plays from August 16 to 26, with 8pm shows on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 2pm Saturday matinees, and a 2pm show on Sunday, August 20.

Tickets: $56.10 to $66.30.

Bookings: 4929 1977.