BWW Reviews: LES MISERABLES U.S. Tour Is Worth the Trip
It all started with a book written by a genius named Victor Hugo. Today, 150 years later, the story lives on in the musical, LES MISÉRABLES. Its recent run in Austin, Texas was a complete sell-out as it has been wherever it goes. Seeing it one time is fabulous, but seeing it multiple times from different angles helps you to really understand the story, the theatrics and the massive talent performing on the stage.
The main character, Jean Valjean is portrayed by Peter Lockyer and he made the character of Jean Valjean so raw and so emotional. Having interviewed him, previously (see article) it was a treat to see him perform for the first time. After his first song, “Valjean’s Soliloquy,” you could hear an audible gasp from the audience as he hit the final note of the song. Applause was thunderous and the audience was drawn in very quickly to the story that was unfolding onstage. As the character of Valjean develops, you can feel what he feels and see things from his point of view. You have a passion for him and a desire to stay connected to the character. Peter Lockyer was very successful at achieving this connection with the audience. As he showed compassion to Fantine and later as he took young Cosette into his care, Peter’s ability to keep you connected was strong. During the Barricade scenes, Peter sang, “Bring him Home” and he sang every note crystal clear and with strong emotion. There was hardly a dry eye in the audience. You could feel the redemption in his heart as in his soul and the desire to take care of young Marius because he knew that Marius would take care of Cosette for him. And as Peter performed throughout the show, you felt Valjean’s compassion and love. Peter made Valjean in this production. He played him in his own unique way but never detracted from the complex character that Victor Hugo meant for Valjean to be.
Fantine is played by Betsy Morgan and her voice was perfect for the role. She did a great job singing, “I Dreamed a Dream” and many audience members openly wept as she stood alone onstage pleading for help and feeling alone and desperate. Betsy was so emotional and it helped you to understand Fantine and the love she had for Cosette.
Then there was Javert. Andrew Varela played Inspector Javert in a way that cannot be adequately explained. Do not underestimate Javert and Andrew’s talent. He plays Javert to perfection. When you see Javert at the beginning of the play, you want to hate him for the way he treats the prisoners and especially Valjean. But, when you begin to understand Javert, you can’t help but have a soft spot for him. And Andrew’s voice…AMAZING!! He sings “The Confrontation” with Peter and they complement each other very well. Their voices blend well and the emotion they have together in the fight scene makes you really root for both of them to win. You feel torn about whom to feel sorrier for. Andrew stood onstage alone and sang, “Stars” and you could just tell that the audience wanted to give him a standing ovation but had to refrain. His voice was powerful and strong. But when Andrew sang, “Javert’s Suicide,” you could weep for his loss and his torment. And the theatrics for that were amazing as he leapt from the bridge to his death. It has to be seen to realize the scope of the special effects.
The actor who played Marius was Max Quinlan was another stand out in this production. Marius is such a complicated character also with many facets and layers that can’t easily be understood on the surface (discussed in an earlier interview). Max Quinlan helped to peel away those layers and see the rawness and vulnerability of this young boy. Max’s voice was amazing and the strength of his voice was something not to be missed. The song “A Heart Full of Love” with Cosette and Éponine begins to show the scope of his voice and the acting talents he possesses but as the character further develops, so does the complexity of Marius and Max helps the audience to see that. His duet with Éponine, “A Little Fall of Rain” was unbelievable and raw. The sadness and hopelessness came through as Max showed his vocal range and ability to keep the audience riveted to the story. Max’s solo of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was one that helped the audience to understand Marius on such a new level as he realized all the loss and sadness of Marius knowing that all of the people he cared for so genuinely were gone. Max’s haunting rendition of this song was beyond words. Max is someone who has a bright future and someone you should look for in many more shows over the years.
Another stand out actress in this production was Chasten Harmon as Éponine. Her voice was perfect and her range was amazing. Her solo, “On My Own” helped to bring out that range. Éponine was a confused young girl trying to be devoted to her family responsibilities but having these immense feelings for Marius. Éponine wanted Marius to notice her for the woman that she was becoming not the street girl with the thieving family. As Chasten played the role, she did a fabulous job of making the audience weep with her and understand Éponine’s complexity too.
The other actors in the play were equally impressive and of great importance including Lauren Wiley as Cosette, Jason Forbach as Enjolras, Timothy Gulan as Thénardier, and Shawna M Hamic as Madame Thénardier. Each one helped to bring the show together and to keep the entertainment strong throughout the play. Each one has individual talent that work in unison to make LES MISERABLES U.S. Tour a success.
Now, a word about the special effects and scenery. It was something that is new and innovative and unique and unusual and amazing. They used projections inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo in such a way that made it appear real. The part where Valjean carries Marius through the sewers was most impressive and it seemed as if they were really walking through the sewers. Watching it one night from the orchestra level and another night in the first balcony, you could appreciate the scenery and the massiveness of the barricade differently. It seemed so much larger as you watched from the balcony and so much more impressive. Sitting in the balcony, you can take in all of the small things that may be overlooked from the orchestra level. It was a new perspective.
If you missed LES MISERABLES in Austin last week, check out their website and see where else they will be performing. It would be worth the trip. The touring group is heading New Mexico this week and continues to tour throughout the next year all over the United States. It comes to Houston in November and the tickets haven’t even gone on sale there yet. Get them before they are all sold out.