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Les Miserables - Still Bringing It Home!


The first staged production of Les Miserables was in London in 1985, then on to its American premier in Washington's Kennedy Center in 1986, and on to Broadway in 1987 where it broke longevity records before closing in 2003. On June 16, 2005, Les Miserables set a new Guinness World Record under the category of "Most concurrent musical productions" having had a record number of 15 productions staged around the world at one time. 

The staged show is a baby compared to the numerous film productions that took place from a silent American film in 1909 to the 1982 made-for-televison epic by Robert Hossein. From France, to Italy to Japan, the number of filmed versions of Les Miserables lie somewhere between an official 20 to an unofficial 51!

The 2006 Philadelphia engagement of this show is the eighth and final, final visit, or so they say. Of course, since this press release, the producershave announced a special six month return to Broadway in October of 2006,with the advent of its 20th Anniversary of the New York production coming up in 2007. It's possible that we may never see the last of the chase of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert.

Since this is the "world most popular musical," it is likely also the world's best know musical to theater buffs. But just to cover the basics, here's the plot. Les Miserables is based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo and book and music by Claude-Michel Schonberg. It covers a time period in France from 1815 to 1832. The driving force behind the story are the two main characters Jean Valjean, a newly released convict and his lifetime adversary police Inspector Javert. As the chase begins, Valjean finds that his "ticket-of-leave " puts him in the thick of poverty, political revolution and people that would change his life. Faced with such life changing decisions, Valjean must find his way to redeem himself while avoiding the clutches of the obsessive Javert before he dies.

This sweeping musical still stands as one that has earned its blockbuster status with heart tugging songs that propel the plot. The staging, sets and action are as fresh as its Broadway opening, from the huge barricade, the revolving stage to the energy of the actors in the chorus. Randal Keith delivers an applaudable performance as Jean Valjean as he captures the audience with his talent. He is kind, yet possess an inner strength that is both noble and noticeable.

Robert Hunt should go down as one of the actors who finally takes the role of Javert to a new level of layers of emotion rather than the overly stiff, poker faced policeman who walks about wacking his night stick in his hand waiting to pounce on Valjean. One actually can see the mixed emotions that take place between these two arch enemies as they battle between rage, indignation, to almost a reluctant respect of each others dedication. This is a chemistry that works well with these two actors. Two interesting observations from my fifth row center seat is that Javert never seems to age as much his white haired counterpart. It also seems that this Valjean is sporting a black bar code marking high upon his chest in place of the 24601 prison branding that climatically appears at the close of "Who Am I?".

The hauntingly beautiful and powerful score that brings such memorable songs as " I Dreamed a Dream", "One Day More", "Bring Him Home", "Stars", "On My Own" , "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" and "Do You Hear The People Sing", all of which are performed wonderfully by the orchestra conducted by Lawrence Goldberg.

While the two main leads of this touring production offer stellar performances, this is sadly not the case with the leading ladies. Both the roles of Fantine and Eponine played by Joan Almedilla and Melissa Lyons are lacking vocally. Neither of these ladies land their money numbers with any measure of power or sustain their notes in a fine manner. Almedilla's Fantine is harsh and hurried and Lyons' Eponine wanders about looking almost bored. Leslie Henstock appears slight of size with a small voice and seems also a bit rushed through her role. While her vocals are sweetly sung and she lands all her notes, she seems to hold back in her acting and misses a few touching opportunities both with Marius and Valjean.

The gems of the evening would have to go to the Thenardiers' played by Jennifer Butt and Fabio Polanco. Upon entering the Inn, one is caught back by the scary, skinny, dare I say, sleazy Madame and her scruffy, beady eyed, black toothed husband. A well suited pair of vulgar villains that are so animated and comical that you almost, dare I say again, relish their time on stage. Polanco's " Dog Eats Dog" is intense and loathing. This is not to be out done by their grand entrance and gaudy, intolerable behavior during "Beggars at the Feast", at the wedding.

Young Austin Myers is one of the talented children to play in this production as Gavroche. He commands the stage as large as any of the adults with a healthy dose of precociousness and a huge amount of panache, which is indicated by a rousing amount of applause and cheers at the curtain call.

Our young revolutionary students are well cast with a strong group of actors, headed by Victor Wallace as Enjolras and Adam Jacobs as Marius. Wallace plays a superbly strong Enjolras both in his acting and his vocals. One could only imagine what he could do with the role of Marius with a tad more time. Jacobs puts out a big effort to support the role of Marius but falls a bit short in some respects. His "acting" the part is quite obvious and his focus on his vocals is equally obvious. His delivery of "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" is emotionless, which sorely takes away from this highly emotional and poignant song, and his chemistry with Cosette never really happens.

Despite some unbalanced casting, Les Miserables is solid enough to bring it home with soaring tunes and a tale that still draws a tear. It is truly a timeless classic. One can hope that the creative team will revisit the cast prior to the return to Broadway.

 Les Miserables: Produced by Cameron Mackintosh, Conception, Book Original French Lyrics: Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, Composer: Claude-Michel Schonberg, Lyricist:Herbert Kretzmer, Direction and Adaption: John Caird, Trevor Nunn

Photo Credits: Randal Keith & Joan Almedilla, Forrest Thea. Press

Photo Credits: Robert Hunt & Randal Keith,

Les Mierables plays at the Forrest Theater, Philadelphia from March 1-19, 2006

For tickets and more information: call 800.447.7400 or

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