Heart-rending musical theatre joy flows freely and abundantly as a bumper cast of singers and musicians pay loving tribute to the once-in-a-lifetime talents of composers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg in boffo concert presentation Do You Hear the People Sing?.
In a carefully considered, very generously proportioned program, highlight after everloving highlight pours forth in swift succession. Each song and each performer seems miraculously better than the last, until the roof practically blows off the theatre when the full company takes to the stage together.
Full credit must be given to producer Enda Markey for the vision and drive in creating this genuinely incredible concert. The concept for the show is ingenious, and the fact that Markey’s vision is so fully realised signifies something of a superhuman effort behind the scenes. Just the logistics of corralling a set of international cast members is mind-boggling. The quality of production is there in every detail, and the concert can be seen as nothing less than a heartfelt gift to lovers of musical theatre.
Each of the eight international lead performers is quite extraordinary. Add to this the highly talented ensemble of 12 fellow performers, nestled on stage amidst the orchestra of 24 musicians. For each of the leading ladies, it is at least a three-frock affair; the men, likewise, provide dashing glamour and a touch of sartorial variety.
Peter Rubie’s lighting design provides added gloss. Tom Brickhill’s sound design distinguishes every instrument and voice with clarity. A couple of minor missed technical cues on opening night will no doubt be smoothed over for subsequent performances.
The musical performance benefits from the orchestrations of Jack Earle, a highlight of which is the neatly blended overture, which succinctly samples the hits of each Boublil & Schönberg musical.
World class musical director Guy Simpson brings his inimitable flair to the podium, ensuring that the beloved songs are heard at their best.
Director Andrew Pole achieves a charming sense of personable ease from each of the lead performers, who casually deliver pithy preambles as they hand the baton to each subsequent singer. Songs are given their full emotional heft in fully committed performances given by stars who often have significant background experience in the roles.
The concert begins with a deep dive into 1989 hit Miss Saigon, distinguished by a welcome return to the Australian stage for David Harris, and Australian debuts for Korean star Sooha Kim and West End leading light Rachel Tucker. Kim made an instantly strong impression with Kim’s soaring prayer “I’d Give My Life For You,” before she and Harris had the audience swooning to “The Last Night of the World.”
Headliner Michael Ball brought necessary gravity to “Bui Doi” and fellow West End legend John Owen Jones gave a passionate rendition of Chris’ heartfelt power ballad “Why God, Why?”.
Australian globetrotter Suzie Mathers presented three versions of Ellen’s act two ballad before handing over to Tucker to bring it home with most recent version, “Maybe.” In a role he will sadly never play in a full production, triple threat Bobby Fox tore up the stage with the Engineer’s fantasia “The American Dream.”
In the lone song from Boublil and Schönberg’s first show, La Révolution Française, French stalwart Marie Zamora brought such expression to “Au Petit Matin” that its meaning shone through with no need for surtitles.
A singer of considerable emotional intelligence, Tucker brought fresh interest to the upcoming 2024 revival of Martin Guerre by putting her personal stamp on world premiere song “Turn Back the Seasons.” Harris’ agile tenor gleamed in Martin Guerre power ballad “I’m Martin Guerre.”
The first half concluded with a wonderful multi-lingual arrangement of Fantine’s megahit ballad “I Dreamed A Dream” before the full company soared through Miss Saigon act one choral thriller “This is the Hour.”
Local musical fans not familiar with 2007 Broadway flop The Pirate Queen may well be moved to seek out the cast recording after hearing Tucker sing Grace O’Malley’s stirring anthem “Woman” and Harris belt the lovely melody of “I’ll Be There.” The show received a memorable introduction at the top of act two when Fox dazzled with some of the Irish dancing that was a feature of the show.
Then finally it was time for the big one, as the orchestra launched into the instantly recognisable overture of Les Misérables.
The lead performers had fun singing the factory roles in “At The End of The Day,” and Fox and Tucker amused as those dastardly Thénardiers with “Master of the House.” Both of these numbers, and more, were enhanced by the invaluable work of the ensemble singers.
To hear original 1985 cast member Ball revisit his role of Marius to sing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was unforgettable, as was the gorgeous trio “In My Life/A Heart Full of Love,” in which Ball was joined by Mathers as Cosette and Kim as Eponine.
Ball also took on Javert, crooning “Stars” before joining Harris and Owen Jones for a beautifully harmonised arrangement of Valjean’s iconic prayer “Bring Him Home.”
The full company thrilled with act one finale-to-end-all-finales, “One Day More,” before concluding with the concert’s title song “Do You Hear The People Sing?”
In the final icing on the cake, the two Great Men, Boublil and Schönberg themselves appeared on stage, joining the company to graciously acknowledge a hearty standing ovation.
Did we hear the people sing? We certainly did. And what wonderful people they were. This concert will live in the memories of all who attended. Fellow musical lovers are given the strongest possible urging to attend the remaining performances in Melbourne and Sydney.
Do You Hear the People Sing? plays again at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne on 28 September 2022. For tickets, click here.
Do You Hear the People Sing? plays again at Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House 30 September – 2 October 2022. For tickets, click here.
Footnote: the program for Do You Hear the People Sing? makes the rare inclusion of a headshot for every orchestra member. Just another sign that producer Enda Markey is all class.
Photos: Jeff Busby
Categories: Music Theatre, Reviews
Having had the real privilege of attending Wednesday’s matinee performance, I can only endorse your positive review.
The topper to it all was being able to publicly acknowledge their contribution to musical theatre in the flesh, so to speak!
Glad to hear that you enjoyed the concert as much as I did. We are all so lucky to have such wonderful theatrical entertainment on stage in Melbourne.
Unfortunately , after waiting two years, I was not able to make it to Melbourne from the Northern Territory for Wednesday night’s performance of Do You Hear The People Sing; however the tickets were put to good use by family members and this mornings phone call was one of excitement and enthusiasm – “ Mum, it was just amazing!”.
Bringing world stage quality to our shores can only encourage our own talent to dream and strive for more.
Thanks for this comment, Patricia. Sorry To hear that you could not be there but glad your family appreciated the tickets.
There was plenty of Australian talent involved in the concert along with the international guests. The end result was indeed an inspiring and entertaining combination of singers and musicians.