Les Miserables

JOHN LAWSON Norfolk Youth Music TheatreNorwich PlayhouseNot for nothing has Les Miserables become the world's most popular musical.Victor Hugo's classic story of triumph over injustice, set to Claude-Michel Schonberg's rich, passionate and thrilling score has been delighting audiences across the globe for over 20 years.

JOHN LAWSON

> Norwich Playhouse

This is a show which brings talent out of the woodwork because every devotee of musical theatre wants to be a part of it - and Adrian Connell's magnificent Norfolk Youth Music Theatre company has uncovered it in spades with a collection of principals whose maturity of sound and power of performance belies their years.

On John Buckley's marvellous set, Joe Ringer is an imposing figure as Jean Valjean, the ex-convict who battles his way out of the gutter to take up the cause of the downtrodden. From his very first soliloquy, Ringer wrings every ounce of emotion from the music, culminating in the heart-wrenching aria Bring Him Home.

But if there is any thought of all the company's eggs being in one leading role basket, each performer who steps into centre stage delivers their big numbers to spine-tingling effect.

Jack Willis-Ollett was strong and determined as Valjean's nemesis Javert, while Jenni Woodward was heartbreaking as the tragic Fantine - the only disappointment was that their finest numbers, Stars and I Dreamed a Dream, fell victim to the editor's knife in this popular condensed school edition.

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Eloise Secker is similarly passionate as Eponine, unrequitedly in love with Marius (James Poole), who is pursuing Cosette (Liz Futter). Her performances of On my Own and, in duet with Poole, A Little Fall of Rain, have the audience reaching for the tissue box again.

Becki Humphries and Robert Heard have the difficult job of injecting comedy into the mix as the larger than life pub owners, the irredeemable Thenardiers, but they achieve it with bawdy panache.

But the revelation for me is Sam Claflin as the student leader Enjolras, a character I have rather overlooked on the many occasions I have seen the West End production.

Claflin's performance is one of huge strength and charisma. And what a tremendous singing voice, too, brought to the fore in Red and Black and Do You Hear the People Sing, both of which also show off the breadth of quality in the chorus, who were tremendous again in One Day More.

And the girls of the chorus were showcased to great effect in the Lovely Ladies number.

Expect standing ovations all week - if you can battle through the crowds to get a ticket.

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