Grant Pegg, front, and cast in Canberra Philharmonic Society's production of <i>Les Miserables</i>.

Grant Pegg, front, and cast in Canberra Philharmonic Society's production of Les Miserables.

Les Miserables. Canberra Philharmonic

Erindale Theatre until March 16.

Reviewer: Alanna Maclean

Canberra Philharmonic has returned to the huge canvas of Les Miserables (previously staged in 2006) and shown once again why this is such a favourite with musical companies.

It's got a compelling base in Victor Hugo's novel about the thief (Jean Valjean, played by Dave Smith) who reforms and the police officer (Javert - Adrian Flor) who nevertheless pursues him with such unrelenting and unforgiving logic.

It's got comedy, tragic lives, early deaths and unrequited love. It's got a doomed attempt at revolution in 1832 Paris. It's got eminently singable (if repetitive) music. In fact there is hardly a spoken line in it, which means it has to go with a swing.

Mostly this production does so. Under Jim McMullen's capable direction a large lively cast peoples Paris and its surrounds with the poor, the workers, the prisoners, the prostitutes, the ne'er do wells, the soldiers and police and the doomed revolutionary students. Out of this arises the central tussle with morality.

Smith's stoic and beautifully sung Valjean, out of prison but outcast because he is a ticket-of-leave man, encounters kindness and a second chance from a saintly bishop (Greg Sollis) that puts him in position to start a new life.

Flor's Javert, unforgiving and with no understanding of mercy, has a lean and hungry clarity as he continues his pursuit to its terrible end.

Kelly Roberts is forceful and moving as the naive Fantine, left pregnant by her lover and working in a factory to support her daughter Cosette. The central love triangle is well served by Laura Dawson's excellent Cosette, beautifully sung and well focused.

Mat Chardon O'Dea's Marius catches the idealism and charm and lyrical singing of her young lover. Vanessa de Jaeger, battling some costume choices that are too pale for her fair looks and for the character, makes an intense Eponine.

Opportunities for younger performers were well seized on opening night by Kaitlin Nihill (young Eponine), Amos Walker as a cheeky Gavroche and Kate Gordon (young Cosette), especially affecting in her solo, Castle on a Cloud.

Ian Croker and Kate Tricks have a ball relishing the total lack of morality that underpins the Thenardiers, whose pursuit of Valjean is purely venal. And the lovely ensemble of the students and their friends who take to the streets with red flags and barricades and ideals in the cause of the poor and downtrodden ''les miserables'' is led in great voice by Grant Pegg as Enjolras.

On opening night the lighting suffered from a few problems that meant it was very hard to see some performers at key moments.

Cross fading rather than blackouts would better preserve the mood of the atmospheric set during the many changes. And a better balance between amplification and projection of the voices needs to be found at times.

However, this is a rousing production with some excellent singing and acting and a fabulously detailed barricade. It's a show you can happily get lost in.