Palace Theatre, London W1
Opened 4 December, 1985; reviewed November, 2000

Fifteen years on, it's still big, bold and majestic... and also quite hollow, as if we have long since forgotten what it's actually for.

Boublil and Schönberg, more than Lloyd Webber, rewrote the rules of the modern musical with this show, turning it more or less into opera for people who mistakenly feel that "real" opera is above them a kind of ersatz high culture. With its sung-through structure, its elevated thematic concerns and its opulent staging, it proclaims its own grandeur at every moment.

And in many ways, this musical retelling of Victor Hugo's story is highly impressive. The curse of long-running shows, that sense of jus going through the motions, is less obviously visible on the surface here than in many other productions. You can, though, feel it gnawing away at the heart of the evening. It has become like a religious ceremony, whose original motivating spirit has been forgotten... or like a visit to Lenin's tomb: one can appreciate what it achieved when it was truly alive, but now it is simply a matter of paying one's respects and trying to view the present reality through a prism of faith.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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