Villains will get you laughing in Les Miserables

Trevor Ashley and Lara Mulcahy in a scene from the musical Les Miserables.
Trevor Ashley and Lara Mulcahy in a scene from the musical Les Miserables. Matt Murphy

EVERY musical needs a little light and shade.

Trevor Ashley and Laura Mulcahy have the important job of providing most of the laughs in Cameron Mackintosh's 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables.

The actors play the Thenardiers, an unscrupulous couple who run a small inn where central character Jean Valjean comes to barter for the custody of young orphan Cosette.

Their greedy antics provide moments of comedic respite for theatre-goers during the three-hour show drama set in 19th century revolutionary France.

"We definitely have the most fun and certainly sometimes we feel like we're in a completely different show," Mulcahy told APN.

"The great thing about their comedy is you're watching going 'I can't believe they did that'. It's like people laughing at funerals and crying at weddings. You laugh at the macabre of it."

Trevor Ashley and Lara Mulcahy in a scene from the musical Les Miserables.
Trevor Ashley and Lara Mulcahy in a scene from the musical Les Miserables. Matt Murphy

As the show progresses the Thenardiers, and their now grown-up daughter Eponine, move to Paris where their thievery escalates.

"They've got a gang and he's got a knife and he has killed someone by then," Mulcahy said.

"Then they progress to literally robbing dead bodies. It's pretty full-on. But they're still lovable, which is strange. The audience always loves to love a baddie."

This latest production, which has already won five Helpmann Awards, is a major reworking of the award-winning musical.

Mackintosh's new Les Mis features a re-orchestrated score, new sets and costumes and backdrops based on the drawings of Les Miserables author Victor Hugo.

If anyone is in a position to reflect on the evolution of the show in Australia, aside from Mackintosh, then it's Mulcahy.

This is her third Les Mis, having previously starred in the original Australian ensemble and graduating to the role of Madame Thenardier during the 10th anniversary tour.

"It needed to be done," she said.

"It needed to be brought into the 21st century. The technology now is so different to what they could do 30 years ago."

In contrast, this is Ashley's first Les Miserables; Mackintosh hand-picked him for the role.

"He told me I had the role in my dressing room on the West End when I was doing my Liza (Minnelli) show there (in London)," he said.

"To have the vision to see me in drag, doing what I normally do, and to go 'you'd a great Thenardier' is pretty amazing.

"This new production moves like a film and the transitions between scenes are really beautiful."

Les Miserables opens tonight at QPAC's Lyric Theatre. The Brisbane season plays through January 10, 2016.

Topics:  les miserables qpac's lyric theatre

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