The Les Misérables All-Star Staged Concert has finally hit the West End at the Gielgud Theatre after months of anticipation and stars some of the biggest names in Les Mis history. To celebrate this hugely popular new production of one of the most beloved shows in musical theatre history, we’ve taken a look at some of the biggest names to have starred in the show over the last thirty-four years, and have picked our ultimate cast.
Jean Valjean: Colm Wilkinson
Colm Wilkinson is one of the most crucial pieces of the Les Misérables puzzle, having originated the role of Jean Valjean in both the West End and Broadway. One of Les Mis’ most beloved songs, “Bring Him Home”, was written specifically for Wilkinson, after writer Claude-Michel Schönberg heard him practising in a striking falsetto during rehearsals for the original West End production. His version is still acclaimed throughout the world. He reprised his role for the tenth-anniversary concert and appeared as a special guest for the twenty-fifth. Wilkinson was also particularly noted for his performance in the title role in The Phantom of the Opera, in which he performed for the Sydmonton Festival and the original Canadian production.
Colm’s portrayal of Jean Valjean is quintessential Les Mis. It’s obvious when listening to his version that “Bring Him Home” – the role’s most powerful number – was written for him; he hits the top notes and fills them with desperation in a way no-one else can. It’s a role that was made for him.
Javert: Norm Lewis
Norm Lewis is another history-making performer, being the first African-American actor to perform in the title role in Broadway’s production of The Phantom of the Opera. He made his Broadway debut, however, in The Whos’s Tommy in 1993, going on to star in countless landmark musicals in subsequent years; Miss Saigon, Side Show, The Wild Party, Chicago, Dreamgirls, Chess and Hair, to name just a handful. He has starred as Javert in Les Misérables several times, first taking on the role in the 2006 Broadway revival, before reprising it in the West End, for the twenty-fifth-anniversary production, and for the 2013 St Louis production.
Javert is a fear-inducing but tragic character, and anyone playing the role needs to be able to strike the perfect balance between undoubtable strength and painful despair. Norm Lewis’s versions of “Stars” and “Soliloquy (Javert’s Suicide)” bring this contrast spectacularly, and his baritone voice is truly exceptional.
Éponine: Samantha Barks
Samantha Barks rose to fame in 2008 after placing third in I’d Do Anything, a BBC talent show searching for an unknown actress to play Nancy in a West End revival of Oliver! Soon after, she was announced to play Sally Bowles in the UK tour of Cabaret. For a year from June 2010, Barks starred as Éponine in the West End, and was then chosen to play the role for the twenty-fifth-anniversary concert. Éponine then provided Samantha’s film debut when she starred in the 2012 screen adaptation of the musical. Barks has since gone on to play Nancy in Oliver! – the audition for which brought her to public attention three years earlier -, Velma in Chicago, and is currently making her Broadway debut as Vivian in the musical adaptation of Pretty Woman.
There’s a reason Samantha was chosen for the film adaptation. Her performance as Éponine, on both stage and screen, captures the character’s passion and tragedy perfectly. Carrie Hope Fletcher was close behind, but Samantha wins it for us!
Fantine: Ruthie Henshall
Ruthie Henshall made her West End debut in Cats in 1987, playing the roles of Jemima, Demeter, Jellylorum, Griddlebone, and Grizabella over the next two years. Her first turn in Les Misérables arrived in 1992, when she joined the West End cast as Fantine, a role she was invited to reprise for the tenth-anniversary concert in 1995. Since then, she has become one of the most recognisable and acclaimed faces in British musical theatre, having played such iconic roles as Nancy in Oliver!, Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, Mrs. Wilkinson in Billy Elliot and, most notably, Roxie, Velma and Mama Morton across four Broadway and West End productions of Chicago.
Fantine is perhaps the Les Misérables role that requires the most sympathy to be drawn from the audience, and Ruthie’s sorrowful and intense version of “I Dreamed A Dream” achieves just this. Anne Hathaway’s intense, Oscar-winning portrayal very nearly pips her to the post, but Ruthie’s vocal talent sits better with the rest of our picks.
Cosette: Rebecca Caine
Rebecca Caine was born in Toronto, and moved to London – where she still lives – to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Her career has spanned both opera and musical theatre, having made her West End debut as Laurey in Oklahoma! and being asked to join the original West End cast of Les Misérables as Cosette whilst making her debut at Glyndebourne as Amor in L’incoronazione di Poppea. Since Les Mis, she has starred as Christine in The Phantom of Opera in both London and Canada, Katisha in The Mikado, and Baroness Elsa Schrader in The Sound of Music.
Cosette is a tricky role vocally, and Rebecca makes it sound easy. Her top notes in “A Heart Full of Love” are crisp and sure, and her operatic version of “I Saw Him Once” on the Original London Cast Recording makes you wish the song still featured in the show.
Marius: Michael Ball
Michael Ball made his West End debut in Les Misérables, playing Marius Pontmercy in the 1985 original West End cast, a role he reprised in the tenth-anniversary concert in 1995. He’s since played some of the biggest roles in musical theatre; Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Edna Turnblad in Hairspray (a role he’s set to reprise next year) and the title role in Sweeney Todd. His performances in Hairspray and Sweeney Todd both won him the Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Thanks to his prolific career on stage, and in music, television and radio, he is probably one of the most recognisable faces from Les Mis history. In the Gielgud production, Ball takes on the role of Inspector Javert.
Michael has played a huge number of iconic roles, but his performance as Marius defines his career. His version of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables remains striking and emotional nearly four decades later.
Thénardier: Matt Lucas
Matt Lucas is one of the most recognisable faces in British comedy. He was first seen on our TV screens in 1995, starring alongside Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer in The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and the ever-popular Shooting Stars. His biggest break, though, came from his partnership with David Walliams and their hugely successful sketch comedy series’ Little Britain and Come Fly With Me. It was in 2010 that Lucas first appeared in Les Misérables, playing Monsieur Thénardier in the twenty-fifth-anniversary concert, followed by a run in the role in the West End production the following year. Lucas is playing Thénardier once again for the Gielgud production.
Matt’s comedy prowess brings a new level of hilarity to an already fabulously funny character. He has the audience in stitches every night, which is just what this comic relief character is perfect for.
Enjolras: Killian Donnelly
Killian Donnelly has certainly played the most roles in Les Misérables of any of the stars on this list. He joined the West End cast as a swing in 2008, eventually becoming second cover Javert and Enjolras, and taking over as an emergency cover Jean Valjean on multiple occasions. He was eventually promoted to principal Enjolras before leaving the West End production in 2011. He also featured as Coufeyrac in the twenty-fifth-anniversary concert, and Combeferre in the 2012 film. He then returned to the West End production in 2017 to star as Jean Valjean, and is currently reprising the role in the UK and Ireland tour. Aside from Les Mis, Donnelly has played Tony in Billy Elliot The Musical, and originated the roles of Deco in The Commitments and Charlie in Kinky Boots, the latter of which he also made his Broadway debut with.
Although Killian is a fantastic Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson was our ultimate choice for the leading role – but having played so many roles in the show so brilliantly, we couldn’t dream of leaving him off the list!
Do you agree with our picks? Who would star in your dream Les Misérables? Be sure to comment below and let us know!