THE rousing score of Les Miserables is so familiar, we feel we know the songs. But to really know them is to see them performed in context.

And what astonishing performances there are in this powerful production, at Bradford's Alhambra theatre for a month - the only Yorkshire venue on the UK tour.

It looks like a living, breathing painting - Matt Kinley's impressive set, beautifully lit, is inspired by Victor Hugo’s artwork - with atmospheric projections. The prologue sets the scene - protagonist Jean Valjean, imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, is released on parole and, after he's shown mercy by a man of God, sets out on an epic journey of redemption. Then the haunting Boublil and Schönberg score weaves through the action; songs we know so well appearing briefly then disappearing into the darkness, only to re-emerge again in a show-stopping number. At The End Of The Day, Castle On A Cloud, Master Of The House, Bring Him Home and the spine-tingling One Day More; these songs lift and break hearts, and poke fun and despair at life. "Look down, look down, you'll always be a slave, Look down, look down, you're standing in your grave", sings the chain gang, drowning in incarceration and hard labour.

"Old men, young men, take 'em as they come, Harbour rats and alley cats and every kind of scum, Poor men, rich men, leaders of the land...All it takes is money in your hand," sing the 'Lovely Ladies', consumptive and destitute.

I confess I've never warmed to Les Mis. I get the hope and redemption, but the story itself leaves me cold. I know I'm "on my own" here - I may have been the only person in the packed Alhambra auditorium not wiping tears from my eyes - but, story aside, I was bowled over by this excellent production. And watching world-class performers like Killian Donnelly and Nic Greenshields, I finally understood what these songs are about.

Killian Donnelly is a mesmerising Valjean; from angry young fugitive to honourable man of standing and wise elder. The West End star is a legend in this role, and watching him on stage was a joy.

Nic Greenshields is an incredible presence, commanding authority as Valjean's nemesis Javert, while revealing chinks of the man behind the uniform. The relationship between these men, a relentless cat-and-mouse chase is the heart of this show, personifying the conflict between mercy and justice. What a treat to see such fabulous actors at work.

A terrific cast brought every character vividly to life, so that even third-prisoner-from-the-left or scowling-woman-in-shawl had their own story, waiting to be told. Beautiful performances from Katie Hall as Fantine; fragile yet strong, Tegan Bannister as Eponine, whose performance of On My Own was a standout moment in a show pretty much filled with standout moments, and Bronwen Hanson as a spirited Cosette. Strong performances too from Harry Apps as Marius, Will Richardson as Enjolras, Lee Ormsby and Sophie-Louise Dann as the delightfully comical Thenardiers, Aaron Pryce Lewis as the Bishop and talented youngsters Rafferty Tobias as Gavroche, Amelia Minto as little Cosette and Eden Beach as young Eponine.

By the finale, I was on my feet along with everyone else. This show, with its first-class performances and slick staging, had cast its spell. Do You Hear The People Sing? I did - and they were epic.

Runs until August 10.