BWW Reviews: Ramin Karimloo Led LES MISERABLES a Triumph in Toronto
It feels as though we've all been waiting a long time to say this, but it was finally no longer 'One Day More' as Les Miserables made her grand return to Toronto last night at The Princess of Wales Theatre, and with it, brought Richmond Hill native and West End star Ramin Karimloo home to a Toronto stage.
The new 25th Anniversary Production of the musical based on Victor Hugo's classic novel had been getting rave reviews across the United States, and opened in Toronto with a mostly Canadian cast that includes Karimloo in the lead role of Jean Valjean.
Much has been said about the changes that have been made to this production - a show which Toronto has always held near and dear to its heart. The revolve is gone, and in it's place is brand new staging which draws inspiration from paintings by Victor Hugo, giving Les Mis an emotional connection even stronger than it had before.
From Valjean's opening soliloquy, one could tell that the audience was happy to have the show home. As Karimloo delivered the final note of that first number and the new projections displayed the title words on the wall, the audience erupted with cheers. And so the journey began.
Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his dying son. When finally paroled, he finds the world unwelcoming of an ex-convict and chooses to start a new life while being purused by the ruthless Inspector Javert. What ensues is a nearly forty year story that examines issues of right versus wrong, good versus evil, and above all, the importance of love.
The amazing thing about Les Miserables (and likely the reason that it stands the test of time) is that it's an enduring tale with a score so timeless that even when changes are made to the production, it continues to touch everyone's hearts. That being said, the new direction by James Powell and Laurence Connor add an extra emotional punch that accentuate important points in the story, and the projections are stunning in their ability to portray everything from the underbelly of Paris to the night sky above the river Sienne.
Finally, there's the cast. Much has been said about Karimloo's big 'homecoming' to Toronto - and he did not disappoint. He embodies Valjean in every way imaginable, delivering gorgeous vocals but also understanding the character - a man who goes through incredible hardships and emerges a better person because of his struggles. During Bring Him Home you could hear a pin drop, and the emotion coming from Karimloo was the stuff of theatre magic.
He has a fantastic adversary in Earl Carpenter's Javert, who plays the role tormented and conflicted instead of simply authoritative. We believe his struggles and he becomes less of a villain, and more a man who helps make us questions the bigger 'good versus evil' questions that are central to the story.
The lead women are incredible in their unique sensibilities, with Genevieve Leclerc's Fantine a demure and soft version of the beloved character, Samantha Hill's Cosette a fiesty match for Marius and Melissa O'Neil a stirring and haunting Eponine who brings the housedown with her 11 o'clock number 'On My Own'.
As Marius, Perry Sherman showed depth that we don't always see in that character, and extreme heartbreak at the demise of his friends. Mark Uhre made a formidable Enjloras, leading the students with just the right amount of anger and determination.
Finally, Lisa Horner and Cliff Saunders proved why they make such a great duo, as their performances as The Thenardier's got the biggest laughs of the night. They succeeded in taking two utterly despicable characters and doing the impossible, making them funny while also uniquely their own. Their chemistry is palpable and helps them achieve hearty laughs amidst the heartbreak.
As solid as the leads are, much credit must be given to this incredibly talented ensemble - many of whom get some of the greatest individual moments in the show. This may be Jean Valjean's story, but it's truly an ensemble piece and this is a first rate group of talented actors.
To see so many wonderful Canadian talents on stage giving Toronto the Les Miserables experience it's waited so many years for was heartwarming, and this cast demands your attention. You laugh with them, you cry with them, and in the end, you rise with them. Do you hear the people sing Toronto? Join in their crusade - you won't regret it.