Simon Gleeson ... at the pinnacle of his career.
Simon Gleeson ... at the pinnacle of his career.

Les Mis reworked for 25th anniversary

THE world's longest-running musical, Les Miserables, makes its long-awaited return to Brisbane next week.

The beloved show returns to QPAC for the first time in 16 years. But this 25th anniversary reworking is quite different to the 10th anniversary shows Queensland theatre-goers might fondly remember.

Cameron Mackintosh's new and improved production features a reorchestrated score, new costumes and modernised staging including backdrops based on the paintings and drawings of Les Miserables author Victor Hugo.

While the sets may appear simple at first, projections are used extremely effectively in this new Les Mis.

A simple change of colour to one of Hugo's moody landscapes can completely shift the mood of a scene.

Thanks to advances in projection technology the backdrops can also shift to simulate various environments, from the pitch and fro of a ship on the ocean to Jean Valjean's heroic journey through the sewers of Paris.

"I was really nervous about what they were going to do with it; the original version of the show is very special to me," actor Simon Gleeson tells Weekend.

It's a bit of an understatement really, considering Gleeson had memorised every word of Les Mis by the age of 12 and landed his first professional theatre role straight out of WAAPA (the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) in Mackintosh's 10th anniversary tour.

He now stars as central character Jean Valjean, an ex-prisoner whose life on the run is changed when he adopts a young orphan. In June the 37-year-old won a Helpmann Award for his performance, which has him on stage for nearly all of the three-hour show.

"I couldn't believe it when I was offered the role, then I went 'Oh my God, how the hell am I going to do this?' '' he says.

"Certainly right now it feels like the pinnacle (of my career so far) to be in a show of this size and this particular one because it means so much to so many people.

"To be able to spend that much time with an audience is such a gift."

Simon Gleeson, left, and Hayden Tee in a scene from the musical Les Miserables.
Simon Gleeson, left, and Hayden Tee in a scene from the musical Les Miserables. Matt Murphy

The show is also close to the heart of Gleeson's co-star Hayden Tee, who previously starred as Marius in London.

The New Zealand-born, NIDA-trained actor has also received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Gleeson's on-stage nemesis Javert, a ruthless policeman who hunts Valjean for decades across France.

"Audiences' reactions (to Javert) have been fascinating; Perth booed a lot at curtain call," Tee laughs.

"I never saw him as a villain… he is the antagonist though.

"Like in life, no one's right or wrong; they're just doing what they think is best in that moment."

Gleeson, Tee and their co-star Patrice Tipoki (Fantine) fly overseas next year to star in Mackintosh's international productions of the new Les Mis.

Gleeson will perform in the Manila and Singapore seasons, while Tee is off to New York to play Javert on Broadway. Tipoki will star as Fantine on London's West End.

It's likely to be the start of a new chapter in their respective careers: Mackintosh helped to catapult original Les Mis stars Marina Prior and Anthony Warlow to international fame.

"It's great to feel backed like that; no expense is spared to give the audience the experience they should have," Gleeson says.

"You know you're backed by the best sound, the best lighting, the best costumes. You just know you're in the best version of a show you can be."

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century revolutionary France, Les Mis spans several decades and through its main and supporting characters explores the universal themes of broken dreams, unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption.

Les Miserables plays QPAC's Lyric Theatre from Tuesday to January 10, 2016.