Broadway welcomes a new star
The British musical Les Miserables has taken Broadway by storm on its first night.
After the New York audience gave the show a lengthy standing ovation, which began as the cast were still singing the final bars, the critics weighed in with rave reviews.
Last night's applause, which seemed to go on for ever, was a unique tribute to the British musical that has transformed the face of Broadway.
The New York Times praised "the electrifying showmanship of the 20th century musical" and the New York Post said: "Here, at last, is the stuff of theatrical legend".
Centre-stage stood New York's latest - and least likely - hero. A 42-year-old Irishman called Colm Wilkinson, who played the central role of Jean Valjean.
Five years ago he had admitted defeat in trying to build a West End theatre career and returned to concert singing in his native Dublin. Today, he is Broadway's No. 1 Star.
Searchlights raked the snow-flurried sky over Manhattan as the celebrity audience made their way into the show which had already broken records by taking £12 million in advance bookings.
They cheered the songs, the actors, the sets and, most of all, the compelling story of one man's redemption before rising to a last crescendo of acclaim.
During the closing, emotional scenes there were tears being shed all round the theatre.
Within minutes of the final curtain, producer Cameron Mackintosh said: "There will never be a better performance of that show than there was tonight. It has proved itself. I don't care what the critics say now. I just want everyone to go off and enjoy themselves".
Talking of the unprecedented advance bookings he said: "The show seems to fit a current mood about people wanting something better. It might be since Bob Geldof that somehow there is a movement to help our fellow men and that is part of the spirit of the Hugo book.
"Of course, we weren't to know that at the time the show was being conceived.
"I'd always thought there would be an audience here, but I had no idea it would turn into a fever".
When Mr Wilkinson arrived at the glossy first night party on Park Avenue he was still dazed by the reception in the theatre.
"It's been a long process getting to New York and I am just releived it went well. Now I can relax and enjoy it".
More than 500 American singers were auditioned for the role before the actors' union Equity agreed to let Wilkinson, who is the sone of a Dublin builder, take the role.
Sharing the praise and the celebrations were the British production team of director Trevor Nunn, designer John Napier and lighting designer David Hersey.
Michael Owen, The London Standard