New Lead Stars to Grace West End’s Les Misérables

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West End Production’s critically and commercially successful stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables has been running for more than 30 years now. The show will begin its 33rd year of performances in the iconic Queen’s Theatre at Leicester Square, London.

In this season, a report by Broadway World announced that two major roles will have cast changes – Jean Valjean and Fantine. These big shoes will be filled by Killian Donnelly and Carley Stenson respectively.

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Killian Donnelly. (Photo from killiandonnelly.net)

Killian Donnelly is no stranger to Les Misérables, having performed several roles in the piece before. An article from Playbill mentioned that the veteran actor portrayed Enjolras in the same production from 2009-2011 and Courfeyrac in the 25th Anniversary concert of Les Misérables held at the O2 Arena, London. This will be the first time that Donnelly will be playing Jean Valjean, arguably the biggest role in the musical.

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Carley Stenson (Photo from Twitter @carleystenson)

Carley Stenson, on the other hand, is a first timer to the production. Although she has worked the West End before, this will be her Les Mis debut. The actress openly expressed that the role is exciting, albeit very nerve-wracking, and relayed to the St. Helens Star: “To me, this show is the most prestigious as it’s the one, as students studying performing arts, you dreamed of being in. I feel truly honoured and proud.”

The scale of Les Mis’ potentially polarising reception from audiences

The new cast members’ nervousness are well-placed considering that Les Misérables has been in production for decades, therefore making it one of the most scrutinised bodies of work in the performing arts scene. Its source material is widely regarded as among the greatest novels written in the 19th century, and has since spawned countless stage and film adaptations, including the controversial 2012 movie which generated a lot of buzz surrounding Russell Crowe’s role as Javert.

A blog post from Grantland expounded on the critical reaction towards Crowe’s performance as the actor was not known for doing musicals, despite being a vocalist in a band long before becoming an actor.

He rose to worldwide fame for portraying characters such as Maximus in Gladiator (2000), a global phenomenon that bagged numerous awards and even spawned the officially licensed game Gladiator Jackpot on the popular recreation portal Betfair Casino. While few of the actor’s other projects stand up to the enormity of Gladiator, Crowe’s resume includes other acclaimed works such as his roles as John F. Nash in A Beautiful Mind (2001) and Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider (1999). The star’s track record mostly leans on heavy drama with strong dialogues – the polar opposite to musicals, hence everyone’s surprise when he was cast as Javert in the latest big screen iteration of Les Misérables. Such scrutiny presents additional pressures to everyone involved in a major production of Les Mis, so Donnelly and Stenson, although seasoned veterans in terms of stage plays, are aware of the critical nature associated with the show.

Nevertheless, the pop culture status of Les Misérables means that it remains an amazing opportunity for the two stars to showcase their talents – and further hone their skills at the same time – by working with other reputable personalities like the acclaimed Hayden Tee, who was selected as one of the top 12 voices of music theatre in 2005 by the BBC, and will return as Javert this season.

West End’s new Les Misérables cast will begin their run from 12 June till October at the Queen’s Theatre, London. For tickets and info on the complete cast, you may visit the show’s official site here.

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