Story: Based on French writer Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel, Les Miserables tells the tale of Jean Valjean set against the backdrop of political unrest in 19th century France. Convicted to five years of hard labor for stealing bread to feed his sister’s family, plus another 14 years for trying to escape prison, Valjean is finally released to society in 1815. However, because he’s forced to wear a symbol indicating he’s a former convict, he violates his parole and becomes the subject of a lifelong manhunt by rigid policeman Javert.
As the years pass, Valjean changes his identity and becomes a prosperous business owner and mayor of a village. He rescues the daughter of a destitute young woman, who is forced into prostitution before she dies, at the young woman’s request. The daughter, Cosette, is freed from the tyranny of a despicable inn-keeping couple named the Thenardiers, who dote on their own daughter Eponine. Years later, in Paris, Cosette falls in love with a young student named Marius, who in turn is secretly loved by the grown Eponine. As Enjolras, leader of a student revolution against the oppressive government, and his comrades fight for freedom, Valjean works to aid those around him even as Javert continues his implacable pursuit.
Highlights: After 27 consecutive years in London’s West End, Les Miserables has racked up nearly 6,700 performances. In 2010, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, producer Cameron Mackintosh decided to “re-imagine” the wondrous musical, which features a lush and stirring score by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and an original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. There’s additional material by James Fenton, and the original production was adapted and directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird. The latter currently is directing Daddy Long Legs at The Rep.
Other Info: The credits for Les Miz run nearly as long as the three-hour production. Suffice to say, though, that the old bromide, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” suitably applies to the ‘re-imagined’ Les Miserables. While certain aspects of the new presentation are laudable, such as utilizing original paintings by Hugo as inspiration for the backdrop of Matt Kinley’s set design, for the most part this new rendition lacks the passion and vitality of the original.
Furthermore, it’s considerably more confusing, as references to the setting of scenes in various years is relegated to the program notes and eliminated from the design itself. This leads to a jumbled situation on stage trying to keep up with who is where and when. The reason for this change is unclear and unsatisfying.
Additionally, even with the lengthy running time this version often feels rushed, as if the players wish to depart the stage as soon as possible under Laurence Connor’s and James Powell’s co-direction. A wonderful number such as At the End of the Day seems as if it’s delivered by rifle shot, diluting its impact and precursing the production disappointments to follow.
To be sure, there are pluses in this touring production. With the notable exception of Timothy Gulan as Grenardier, voices of the principal players soar on the notes of Schonberg’s rapturous score. There’s also a fabulous scene in the Paris sewers with breathtaking visual design in projections “realized” by Fifty-Nine Productions. Paule Constable’s lighting is full and textured, Andreane Neofitou’s costumes suitably depict the look of the patrician and plebian classes of the era and Kinley’s set design morphs from a street scene into a barricade with finesse.
There’s fine work by Peter Lockyer as Valjean, Andrew Varela as Javert, Gulan as Thenardier, Shawna Hamic as Mrs. Thenardier, Lauren Wiley as the grown Cosette, Briana Carlson-Goodman as the grown Eponine, Max Quinlan as Marius, Jason Forbach as Enjolras, Erin Cearlock and Abbey Rose Gould alternating as the young Cosette and young Eponine, respectively, and Joshua Colley and Marcus D’Angelo rotating as the fiery street urchin Gavroche.
The opening-night crowd at The Fox rose to its feet at the show’s conclusion with a rousing standing ovation, so obviously Mackintosh’s new version appeals to most observers. As for myself, I’ll take the original, please, and be exceedingly delighted with that.
Musical: Les Miserables
Group: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: Through October 28
Tickets: $15-$80; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.