Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Les Miserables (Playhouse Square Center)

‘LES MIZ,’ in its last local professional touring stop, is a definite “go see!”

One of the fears of going to a touring show of a musical that announces that it has been on the road since 1988 is that the viewer will see a second-rate cast, watered-down technical effects, and a tired and bored cast that is walking through the motions. Well, have no fears about the ‘LES MISERABLE’ production now in a short 6-day run in Playhouse Square. This is a first rate production in every sense.

‘LES MISERABLES’ opened in London in 1985 and is still running. It came to Broadway in 1987, after playing the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and played for over 18 years, making it the third longest-running show in Broadway history. Only ‘CATS’ and ‘’PHANTOM OF THE OPERA’ ran longer. There have been three national touring companies, all of which have visited the North Coast.

LES MIZ is based on Victor Hugo’s classical novel. It is an epic saga of romance and passion which centers on the life of Jean Valjean who was convicted of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. He served his time, broke his parole and then is hunted by Javert, an inspector who becomes obsessed with making the now successful businessman pay and pay-again for his crime.

The show’s beautiful music was composed by Claude-Michel Schonberg and the poignant lyrics were penned by Herbert Kretzmer. The score includes such favorites as “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” “Bring Him Home,””A Heart Full of Love,” and “Turning.” The musical’s book was developed by Alain Boublil and Schonberg.

Because all the words are sung, it is best to be familiar with the story and score before entering the theatre, especially due to the poor sound system and the horrible Allen Theatre acoustics. . If you aren’t acquainted, the program offers an excellent scene by scene description .

The production encompasses all of the scenic, costuming and lighting effects necessary to make this a true professional offering. The massive turntable, which revolves 63 times during the show, allows for fluid set changes. (Interestingly if a person stood in the same place at the edge of the turntable during an entire production, s/he would travel 1/2 mile.) Other interesting facts about the production are that 101 people are involved in the show’s performance including 26 actors, 28 crew, and a 15 member orchestra. One-thousand seven hundred and eighty-two costumes, 31 wigs, and 150 pairs of shoes are used in a single production.

The cast is outstanding. Randal Keith is as good as any of the Jean Valjean’s I’ve observed in the nine times I’ve seen the show. His voice is glorious and his acting makes the character live. His rendition of “Bring Him Home” brought sustained applause. Robert Hunt, though not as menacing as others who have played the role of Javert, has a powerful voice. His final leap to death is a creative theatrical experience.

Daniel Bogart (Marius) effectively develops the role of the love-struck idealist student. He poignantly sang, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” a tribute to his friends who were killed in an unsuccessful revolt. Melissa Lyons, as Eponine, the young woman in love with Marius, but whose love is unreturned, has a marvelous stage presence. Her fine voice is well displayed in “On My Own.” Leslie Henstock failed to create the right illusion as Cosette, Marius’s love and Valjean’s adopted daughter, though her singing voice was quite lovely.

Jennifer Butt (Madame Thenardier) and Norman Large (Therardier) were audience favorites in their comic relief roles. I found their version of “Master of the House,” which is usually a rousing romp, too slowly paced and lacked the needed abandonment. This was the only time during the 3-hour production that I thought the cast was tired.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: This is your last chance to see a professional production of “LES MISERABLES,’ and an excellent production at that. When the script falls into the hands of local theatres they will most likely be unable to find a cast and create the sets, costumes and special effects the show requires. SEE IT NOW!