BWW Reviews: Disappointing LES MISERABLES Revival Trudges to Broadway
Back in 2010, Cameron Mackintosh opened the North American tour of his 25th Anniversary production of Les Miserables at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse in a freshly designed mounting by co-directors Laurence Conner and James Powell.
False prosceniums tightened up the playing space and though 24601 (a/k/a Jean Valjean) was still a prisoner in chains for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread for his starving sister and her family, he and his fellow inmates opened the story rowing oars on a galley ship.
Remaining relatively unchanged, though, was the music (Claude-Michel Schonberg) and words (Herbert Kretzmer, based on the original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel) of this world-famous adaptation of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, set against the backdrop of Paris' 1832 student revolution.
That production, with a different cast, hit Broadway tonight with considerably less of an impact. Plagued with uninspired acting and singing voices that do not seem up to their tasks, this grand return is notably disappointing.
As Jean Valjean, Ramin Karimloo displays a lovely voice, especially when gliding beautifully into the role's top notes, but offers little of interest in the acting department. Lighting designer Paule Constable, whose work I praised when reviewing this production at Paper Mill, doesn't do the cast members any favors with his dim illumination during the piece's many introspective moments. From row J of the orchestra, Karimloo seemed little more than a fuzzy blur during the character's second act high point, the hushed and high-pitched prayer, "Bring Him Home," sapping the moment of much of its emotional heft.
Broadway favorite Will Swenson, better known for playing sexy pop and rocker roles, should certainly be commended for trying to stretch his range by taking on the role of Inspector Javert, the troubled soul who, in chasing after Valjean and trying to put down the student rebellion, believes himself to be heroically fighting for God's will. Unfortunately, there is little variety in his performance as he pushes his songs forcefully, wearing a grim scowl for much of the evening.
The evening's best moment comes when Tony-winner Nikki M. James, as the love-struck Eponine, gathers up all of the character's gutsy determination into a splendidly-acted and vibrantly sung rendition of "On My Own." Those few extremely satisfying minutes serve as a reminder of what is missing from the performances of remaining principal players, who, for various reasons do not live up to expectations for an opening night cast of a major Broadway revival.
That is, except for young Gaten Matarazzo, who belts up a storm and displays lots of stage moxie as the pint-sized revolutionary, Gavroche. (He alternates with Joshua Colley.) It's not a good sign when a production of Les Miz leaves you anxiously waiting for Gavroche to come back on.