BWW Reviews: La Mirada Performs a Triumphant LES MIS
Les Miserables/music by Claude-Michel Schonberg; lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer/original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel/directed by Brian Kite/La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/through June 22
There are not enough superlatives to describe the magnificence of Les Miserables. The musical score and the scope of the storytelling - so grand - are nothing short of breathtaking. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts is currently mounting a beautiful rendering of the piece, which is scaled down to fit the size of the space, but retains all of the fervent passion of past productions. Painstakingly directed by Brian Kite and with eloquent James Barbour as Jean Valjean heading a powerful cast, this production is one you do not want to miss.
Victor Hugo wrote the novel Les Miserables upon which the musical is based, but few know that Hugo was also a visual artist who created more than 4000 modern expressionistic drawings. It was his creative outlet from 1848-51. Even though the drawings are not utilized here, it is fascinating to note that the writer had grande visions that expressed themselves in various artistic forms. Setting the scene, Jean Valjean (Barbour), a thief purely out of poverty, learns a lesson in humility and amends his ways, but is still pursued throughout his life by police, particularly by Javert (Randall Dodge). Valjean takes Cosette ( Emilie Lafontaine as a child; Kimberly Hessler, adult) after her mother Fantine's (Cassandra Murphy) death and brings her up as his own. She falls in love with revolutionary student Marius (Nathaniel Irvin), also tragically loved by Eponine (Valerie Rose Curiel). The Thenardiers (Jeff Skowron and Meeghan Holaway), two unrelentingly menacing street thieves/scoundrels who had surrendered Cosette to Valjean for a high price, consistently abuse Valjean and Cosette whenever their paths cross.
The epic story has more downs than ups with rampant poverty, death and devastation. In this production, director Kite has nicely focused on a balance of gritty reality with theatricality, and as a result most scenes play quite naturally. Take for example, Fantine's deathbed scene. It is not overblown as in past productions. Javert's starkly grim suicide fall from the bridge is yet another example of simplicity in execution.
Art finds its substance in humanity, which becomes feverishly revolting or intoxicating, as the case may be. With no spoken dialogue, only music, Les Miserables is almost an opera, and in La Mirada, John Galudini's musical direction is over the moon impeccable.
The cast are uniformly superb.Barbour, now at the perfect age for Valjean, exudes gentility and kindness and never misses a beat in his totally open depiction of the hero's integrity. He, of course, sings superbly throughout with deep intensity and emotion. His finest performance to date! Curiel is riveting and sympathetic as the tragic Eponine, as is Hessler as adult Cosette. Dodge as Javert, Valjean's arch enemy, is richly menacing and unflinching. The children in the ensemble are all terrific with special nod to Jude Mason as eternally brave little Gavroche. Skowron and Holaway are brutally hilarious as the Thenardiers. Skowron is a bold, overblown cartoon, a fine 360 degree turn from his recent stint as the Baker in 3D Theatricals' Into the Woods. Anthony Fedorov adds wonderfully strong conviction as Enjolras. Bravo to one and all, for some magnificent singing!
Cliff Simon' simplistic set design works efficiently as do costumes by Colleen Grady, lighting by Steven Young, and sound design by Josh Bessom. Schonberg and Kretzmer's overpowering score is unforgettable with one song better than the next: "I Dreamed a Dream", "Castle on a Cloud", "Master of the House", "One Day More", "On My Own", "Bring Him Home" and my personal favorite "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" also titled "Cafe Song", resonating the complex meaning of life.
This production of Les Miserables has clarity and simple beauty, showing just how well the musical stands the test of time. Its message is eternal, and La Mirada's execution, simply stunning. For me, the most chilling and memorable line/image from the book: "To love another person is to see the face of God."