Review: LES MISERABLES at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

Les Misérables is back, and it's worth every penny!

By: Feb. 21, 2024
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Review: LES MISERABLES at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center
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Based on Victor Hugo's classic novel of the same name, Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables is a world-renowned musical set in early 19th-century France. It follows the intertwining lives of several characters, primarily focusing on Jean Valjean, a former convict who seeks redemption after serving a lengthy prison sentence.

Valjean breaks his parole and assumes a new identity, but is relentlessly pursued by the strict Inspector Javert. Against the backdrop of the French Revolution, the musical explores themes of justice, love, sacrifice, and redemption, while showcasing the struggles of various characters, including the impoverished Fantine, the idealistic revolutionary Marius, and the street urchin Éponine. With its powerful score and emotional storytelling, Les Misérables continues to captivate audiences worldwide.

The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center has seen many high-quality touring productions over the last several Broadway Across America seasons, but Les Misérables remains wholly unmatched when it comes to its overall production value.  The current touring production features an incredible company of performers, masterfully crafted scenic design, and flawless transitions that all work collaboratively to unite every soul in the theatre. The ensemble is the best in the business, and enhanced the production with every interaction and microstoryline. Projections can often distract the audience, but with a watercolor painting effect, they enhanced the design of this show in a way that is not often seen. 

Nick Cartell wasted no time, as he quickly reminded the audience of why he holds the role of Jean Valjean. Cartell gave an absolute masterclass in vocal performance, blending classical vocal technique with contemporary musical theatre sound.  My first exposure to Cartell was in Paramour on Broadway, the first musical produced by Cirque du Soleil, where he was a standby for three male roles.  “Bring Him Home” is arguably the most iconic song in the show, and Cartell was not going to let it be anything but that. Seeing him as the leading man is nothing short of a privilege and should not be taken for granted.

Beyond Cartell, it would be a mistake to not mention the other leading male standouts, Jake David Smith as Marius, and Devin Archer as Enjolras.  Smith gave a charming performance that commanded the stage with a gentleness that tied the plot together.  His approach to Marius was grounded, and laced with grace.  His rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was one of the most honest and genuine moments of the show.  Alongside Smith was another next-level performer, Devin Archer.  The character of Enjolras requires an aura and energy that Archer clearly understands.  His rallying persona brought audiences into the revolution in a powerful way, allowing the audience to ride the wave of the show and feel fully immersed in the moment.

I would be completely out of line if I did not mention the wildly talented female principals and their work alongside the actors already mentioned.  Mya Rena Hunter as Éponine did not go unnoticed. Walking the streets with her in “On My Own” was a humbling moment for the audience.  Her haunting and hollow approach left the audience in tears, while at the same time giving them a window into the heart, soul, and mind of this stunning character.  Did I mention the vocal quality? Second to none.  Playing the polar opposite was Delaney Guyer as Cosette.  The coloratura love interest of Marius, this role needs someone with the vocal capability to effortlessly reach the stars without being harsh.  While Guyer’s portrayal of Cosette was generally playful and youthful, her vocal quality was notably polished.  This was especially evident when she sang alongside Smith and Hunter in “A Heart Full of Love.”

In her first time performing at the Fox Cities P.A.C., Green Bay native Kelsey Denae played the role of Fantine for opening night.  A graduate of UW-Stevens Point, Denae left nothing to be misunderstood as Fantine.  Having the opportunity to see her take the stage in this role in front of her “hometown” audience was a thrill.  Listed as the understudy for Fantine, she did not miss a beat.  From the first moment of “I Dreamed A Dream” to her dying breath, Denae embodied every bit of the driven, passionate, and conflicted Fantine.  She made her hometown very proud with her performance.

While there were a few moments that seemed to rush early on in the pacing of the show, potentially leaving those who are unfamiliar with the characters or the premise behind, overall Les Misérables is the “must-see” of the 2023-2024 touring season.  If you are planning to see Les Misérables but have no experience with the show, I highly recommend doing some pre-show research so that you have familiarity with the unique web of characters.  The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center is an outstanding place to see the best of what touring productions have to offer.  This is a show that is not to be missed!