Thursday, April 07, 2011

Les Miserables

LES MIZ, les marvelous at Palace

From the very f
irst time I saw LES MISERABLES, shortly after its opening in London, to the New York production, and through the various touring shows, I have been a fan of the show. Not just a fan, a fanatic fan! Therefore, I went to see The New 25th Anniversary Production, now on stage at the Palace Theatre, with some trepidation.

The advanced publicity indicated the show had been reconceptualized. The music has been reframed, some of the songs reinterpreted, the sets changed, and the attitude was more somber, more dramatic. So? I was as mesmerized with the new as I had been with the old. The story, with its recurring themes, the music, with its recurring themes, the new sets based on Victor Hugo's paintings, all worked and worked well.

When it first opened in London in 1985 the production was generally met with negative reviews. This was musical about greed, child abuse, revolution, cruelty. It contained thwarted idealism, frustration and the seeming defeat of good by evil. This is a musical without dance routines, has the word “miserable” in the title, has 29 onstage deaths, no escapist production numbers and lacks a typical happy ending. Is this the stuff musicals are made of? Not usually. And, though there is nothing wrong with light and frothiness, there is no reason that serious subjects cannot be treated in the musical form. Les Miz proves that contention, and proves it well.

There is no reason that strong emotions about death cannot be visualized as “empty chairs at empty tables,” or hope cannot be expressed as, “there is life about to start, when tomorrow comes!,” or, that infatuation cannot be explained as “a heart full of love,” or the future can't be prophesized as, “I dreamed that love would never die,” and a powerful story can't be summarized with the musical's ending lyric, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Yes, these are all lyrics conceived by Herbert Kretzmer and set to the emotionally charged music of Claude-Michael Schonberg. These are the thoughts of a great musical.

LES MISÉRABLES is an 1862 French tale by Victor Hugo, which is one of the greatest novel of the nineteenth century. Though long and complex, the basic story line centers on a seventeen-year period in the early nineteenth century, which culminated in the unsuccessful June Rebellion. The musical revolves around Jean Valjean, who was caught when he stole a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. Imprisonment, frustration and moral awareness are pivotal ideas of the story. It is played out in front of the history of France's politics and what is meant by the concept of justice. It is fiction entwined within factual and historical events.

The English version of the musical opened in 1985. In spite of tepid reviews, the show, which almost closed in its first week, is still on stage in London, and holds that country's record as the longest running musical of all time. In 1987, the musical debuted on Broadway. To date, the show has been seen by nearly 60 million people.

The touring show is visually stunning. The representational sets are enhanced by lush graphics. The costumes are period correct. The lighting and sound effects work well. The large orchestra, which unfortunately sometimes drowns out the lyrics, has a lush sound.

The cast sings well and interprets the lyrics rather than just singing words. The leads and the chorus fill the large Palace space with full sound. The company's One Day More was a show stopper. Ron Sharpe makes for a believable Jean Valjean and sings the role with a full voice. His Who Am I and Bring Him Home were excellent. Betsy Morgan (Fantine) grabbed the emotions of the audience with I Dreamed A Dream. Chasten Harmon was compelling as Eponine and received an extended ovation for her well-nuanced On My Own.

Andrew Varela sang the role of the evil Javert well, but should have been more menacing. Colin DePaula was wonderful as Gavroche, the young boy. Justin Scott Brown (Marius) and Jenny Latimere (Cosette) were excellent as the young lovers.

Locals might have noted that Cole Burden, a Baldwin Wallace musical theatre graduate, played a prominent chorus role.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: LES MIZ, Les Marvelous! As of opening night, less than 400 tickets remained for the entire run of the show. Those who were lucky enough to order tickets early will see one of the highlight productions of this or any other season!