Story: Based on French poet/novelist/artist 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 son, plus another 14 years for trying to escape prison, Valjean is finally released to society in 1815.
Because he’s forced to wear a symbol indicating he’s a former convict, he violates his parole by removing it after constant rejection in society for even the most menial work. Thus, he becomes the subject of a lifelong manhunt by the inflexible policeman Javert, who supervised Valjean in his prison toils.
Benefiting from the kindness of a bishop who gives Valjean a second chance after he is caught stealing from the cleric’s home, Valjean dedicates himself to turning around his life. As the years pass, he changes his identity and becomes a prosperous business owner and mayor of a village.
At the request of Fantine, a destitute young worker in his factory who is forced into prostitution before she dies, he rescues her young daughter Cosette from the tyranny of her guardians, a despicable inn-keeping couple named the Thenardiers, who dote instead on their own daughter Eponine.
Years later in Paris, young adult Cosette falls mutually in love with a revolutionary 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 of Valjean to rigidly enforce the letter of the law.
Highlights: Back for an amazing 12th visit to the Fox Theatre, Les Miserables reinforces its standing in the top echelon of great musicals with a noble, stirring, epic presentation which engulfs the Fox in all its glory for three magnificent hours.
Other Info: This latest touring production utilizes changes in the original set design and song arrangement which were conceived for the show’s 25th anniversary celebration in 2010. Originally performed in Paris in 1980, Les Miserables began its run in London’s West End in 1985, where it continues to this day as the longest-running musical in West End history. A Broadway version ran from 1987 to 2003, garnering eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2010, producer Cameron Mackintosh re-imagined the wondrous musical, which features a lush, profoundly moving score by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer based on an original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. It also uses additional material by James Fenton and an adaptation by Trevor Nunn and John Caird.
This current touring production features a panoramic background designed by Matt Kinley that is inspired by Hugo’s own paintings, including a scene in the sewers of Paris in Act II which is jaw-dropping in its execution. Kinley also is responsible for the rest of the vast, expansive sets which fully encompass the large stage at The Fox to maximum effect.
Paule Constable’s lighting is mostly dark and depressing, underscoring the melancholy nature of Hugo’s tale, while the costumes designed by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland run the impressive gamut from the torn togs of street urchins to the sinfully rich attire of the aristocracy.
Original orchestrations by John Cameron are enhanced by new orchestrations conceived by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker, with musical staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt. Music director Brian Eads leads a spirited orchestra to vibrantly realize the beauty and resonance of Schonberg’s glorious score.
The show is impeccably directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, so well so that its two act and three hours of running time go by in a flash as scenes blend into each with seamless fluidity.
There are strong, stirring performances throughout featuring an array of moving, operatic voices. The accomplished cast includes Nick Cartell as the valiant protagonist Jean Valjean and Josh Davis as the highly principled but villainous Javert, who work opposite each other handsomely throughout the performance.
Mary Kate Moore captures the essence of the ill-fated Fantine, as do Paige Smallwood and Jillian Butler as the older Eponine and Cosette, respectively. Allison Guinn is a scene-stealer as the lusty, vulgar Madame Thenardier while J. Anthony Crane makes for a properly venal and avaricious Thenardier.
There’s also fine work by Joshua Grosso as the noble Marius, Matt Shingledecker as the revolutionary leader Enjolras and Parker Dzuba and Parker Weathersbee, the latter two alternating in the role of street urchin and rebel fighter Gavroche. Madeleine Guilbot and Vivi Howard take turns alternating in the roles of Little Cosette and Young Eponine to delightful effect.
Les Miserables features a wealth of memorable tunes, ranging from heartfelt ballads such as Empty Chairs at Empty Tables sung by Marius and Eponine’s heartbreaking On My Own to rousing anthems including At the End of the Day and the Act I finale, One Day More, which features the iconic march of the revolutionaries with Gavroche upon their shoulders and the French flag waving defiantly in the background.
Les Miserables is so epic in scope and so large in its musical genius that it’s little wonder it’s still serenading audiences after 33 years. While there have been even stronger performers in some previous incarnations, this latest touring company underscores the lasting excellence of this mighty musical.
Musical: Les Miserables
Company: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: Through December 16
Tickets: $25-$105; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Matthew Murphy