A rapturous standing ovation was the only possible outcome for Vivo D'Arte's stellar performance of Les Miserables last Friday night. It is a wordy, complicated, long and moving piece and the cast dealt well with its demands, aided by director/musical director Dan Cowtan and his team.

Set against a backdrop of misery and want in pre-Revolutionary France, the story centres on recently paroled convict Jean Valjean. We follow the next 17 years of his life in a rags to riches tale. A factory owner and mayor, he seeks to help those around him but is shocked to discover one of his workers has been sacked and fallen into ill repute. As she lies dying, Jean promises to care for her daughter, who has been lodged with an unscrupulous inn keeper. Meanwhile, police inspector Javert keeps up his relentless pursuit of Jean for breaking the conditions of his parole and nothing will stop him from seeing justice done.

Vivo D'Arte's debut show did not disappoint. The performers had clearly thought about the words they were singing and could modulate their voices to convey a range of emotions rather than merely belt it out. The ensemble cast was particularly strong and a clever, uncomplicated set with video captions to introduce each scene kept things simple. The barricade scene in particular was very powerful.

Chesham boys Jake Hafter-Smith (Gavroche) and Kelan Davis (Enjolras) were in fine song rallying the troops, while James Penniston gave us money-grabbing publican Thénardier at his most bawdy and vile.
Also of note are Hemel Hempstead's Joshua Pelligrini who gave a dedicated edge to policeman Javert and Pippa Taylor from Bovingdon, who made for a strident Eponine.

Casey Bird, also from Hemel sang her heart out as the wronged mother Fantine and Rachel Thomas did well as her innocent child, Cosette.

Lead actor George Watkins as Jean Valjean proved utterly compelling whether conveying his anger at mistreatment or breaking down in impassioned despair.
The bar is set high for this talented company's bright future.