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Free-Rain's Les Miserables at the Q is powerful and moving

Les Miserables. A musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg. Based on a novel by Victor Hugo. Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. Additional material by James Fenton. Directed by Cate Clelland. Musical director Nick Griffin. Conductor Ian McLean. Choreography Michelle Heine. Free-Rain Theatre Company. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. Until April 22. Bookings: 6285 6290 or theq.net.au.

Following on from a string of successful and spectacular musicals on the Canberra Theatre stage, Free-Rain Theatre Company has opted for a more intimate and powerfully engaging production of Les Miserables at Queanbeyan's Q Theatre. Director Cate Clelland and her creative team have produced a work driven by plot and character, resulting in excellent performances by principals and chorus alike. Victor Hugo's original novel about police inspector Javert's relentless pursuit of former convict Jean Valjean serves as a moral dictum on the nature of humanity in the face of suffering and injustice.

The score and lyrics make enormous demands on the cast, who rise to the challenge with fervour and gusto. Whether it be the solos of the principals or the rousing ensemble work of the chorus, Free-Rain's production combines the grand passion of opera with a more popular lyricism.

It is little wonder that Les Miserables has become an international success. Hugo's characters, trapped by the cruel circumstances of their time, struggle to survive. Jean Valjean, played with stirring power and emotion by Peter Cousens, must evade his pursuer, the obsessive Javert (Tony Falla). Amy Dunham gives a heartrending performance as Fantine, desperately trying to care for her child Cosette (Hannah McConnell). Comic relief with a touch of bitter satire is provided by the opportunistic Madame Thenardier (Janie Lawson) and her buffoonish husband (Jim Adamik). There are also excellent performances from Sam Ward as Marius, Nicole Carr as Eponine and Jake Keen as Gavroche. He is a talent to watch.

Under talented musical director Nicholas Griffin, the company rise to the challenge of breathing life into the familiar songs. Fantine's I Dreamed a Dream, Jean Valjean's Bring Him Home, Eponine's On My Own and Javert's Soliloquy are just some of the many highlights of the production. There is also excellent choral work in At The End Of The Day and Do You Hear The People Sing. There is excellent support from Nathan Hancock as the Bishop of Digne and Andrew Spence as Enjolras, the leader of the student revolt. As the older Cosette, Stephanie Maclaine has a fine voice, but could develop the character more.

Though more intimate than a large proscenium stage production, the show looks spectacular. Michael Sparks's minimalist setting is lit with terrific effect by Hamish McConchie, and Michelle Heine's choreography creates imagery inspired by character and plot. The barricade scene is particularly powerful. The orchestra under conductor Ian McLean never dominate and work in perfect harmony with the singers. This Les Mis is a truly ensemble affair.

A standing ovation at the end of the opening night performance and several curtain calls attest to the success of Free-Rain Theatre's Les Miserables. Devotees of the musical will not want to miss this moving, powerful and well-staged production.