Review Roundup: LES MISERABLES Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

By: Mar. 23, 2014
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Cameron Mackintosh's new production of Alain Boublil & Claude-Michel Schönberg's Tony Award-winning musical Les Miserables opened last night, Sunday, March 23 on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre.

The cast of the new LES MIZ features Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean; Will Swenson as Javert; Caissie Levy as Fantine; Nikki M. James as Eponine; Andy Mientus as Marius; Samantha Hill as Cosette; acclaimed Canadian actor Cliff Saunders as Thenardier; Tony Award nominee Keala Settle as Madame Thenardier and Kyle Scatliffe, as the revolutionary Enjolras.

Mackintosh's production of Les Miserables is written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg and is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. It has music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, original adaption by Trevor Nunn and John Caird and additional material by James Fenton. The original Les Miserables orchestrations are by John Cameron with new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: "...this "Les Miz" will offend none of the musical's fans with any directorial innovations, and will give them a chance to assess how a new generation of performers meets the challenges of the score. The big winners, happily, were the actors playing the dominating roles of hero and villain: Mr. Karimloo as the bread stealer, single father, long-sufferer and future saint; and Will Swenson as Javert, dogged pursuer of said hero and general scourge to all noble causes and pure hearts...Making a sterling Broadway debut, [Karimloo] sets a high standard in the prologue, performing Valjean's angry soliloquy with fiery intensity and full-throttled vocalism that gradually shades into more nuanced coloring as Valjean...The highlight of his performance, and perhaps the production as a whole, is Mr. Karimloo's beautifully restrained but richly felt rendition of "Bring Him Home"...The rest of the cast doesn't always meet the same high standards, although all are creditable performers within the limits of their roles..."

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: "...what's really outstanding about Broadway's mixed-bag reboot of "Les Miserables" comes when the show is at its leanest and most minimal: one man, one voice, one prayer. That signature, goosebump-raising moment now features London stage vet and Broadway rookie Ramin Karimloo, who plays the fugitive convict Jean Valjean. When he sings "Bring Him Home," the heaven-sent octave-leaping plea for mercy, his purity and hushed fervor lifts the production to a higher level...On the downside, the staging and performances are hit-and-miss. Tag-team directors Laurence Connor and James Powell make the mournful "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" pierce the heart with a candlelit eloquence. Too bad they push the scheming innkeepers - played by Cliff Saunders and Keala Settle - to such grotesque, and boring, levels...As the reluctant prostitute Fantine, Caissie Levy soldiers through the iconic "I Dreamed a Dream" with a straight-up determination. Nikki M. James inspires empathy as Eponine, and Samantha Hill hits the right notes as the delicate Cosette."

Jesse Green, Vulture: " say this production is not as bombastic as the original is to rate it at perhaps an 8 instead of a 10 on the Hugo scale. (The 2012 movie cannot even be measured with current technology.) At the same time, the simplified staging works against the show by further exposing the thinness of the writing...Ramin Karimloo, a next-generation mega-musical expert, who is passionate and precise as Valjean and delivers the most exquisite "Bring Him Home" I've ever heard. A less-expected delight is Will Swenson. Though his Broadway credits (including Hair and Priscilla Queen of the Desert) did not suggest the stature and discipline needed for an effective Javert, he offers a highly mannered but convincing interpretation, biting decisively into every musical phrase like a Doberman. But in cramming the rest of the story into three hours, the authors have cherry-picked Hugo's plot so mercilessly that only its highlights remain. The result is both thin and flat, with nearly everything pitched at the same overwrought level."

Robert Feldberg, North "You can pick holes in it - yes, it's terribly sentimental, and illogical - but its grand conception and parade of timeless songs sweep everything else away. The fine new production, I'm happy to say, doesn't sponge on the show's reputation."

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: "Karimloo introduces himself with a bang - he opens up his shirt, crying "I am Jean Valjean!" His performance is affecting throughout, but Swenson is a bigger revelation. Is that sniffling we hear in the audience? Yes, and that's why "LES MISERABLES" endures."

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: ""Les Miserables" is back, and those irreverent satirists at Forbidden Broadway must be licking their chops. There's no clunky turntable to mock in this reverential revival of the barnburner musical that Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg shrewdly fashioned from the classic Victor Hugo novel, which ran for 16 years on Broadway. But those excitable French revolutionaries are still storming the barricades, marching in place and singing at the top of their lungs. And unlike the tentative 2006 revival, this one is a solid piece of theatrical architecture, built to survive every critical arrow shot through its heart."

David Cote, Time Out: "This redesigned and youthfully cast reboot, though, left me dry: It's strictly for existing fans. Digital backdrops are borrowed from Victor Hugo's own drawings, blown up and animated, giving scenes a storybook feel. As the persecuted but morally upright Jean Valjean, Ramin Karimloo brings steel-and-honey pipes to his anthemic numbers but, like many fellow cast members, falls into the "park and bark" school of acting. (Not so Nikki M. James, exuding genuine pluck and wryness as lovelorn Eponine.) Claude-Michel Schönberg's rousing, frequently gorgeous music still makes your ears swoon, but there's not much here I'd want to rewind and rewatch.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: "The faithful will be pleased that producer Cameron Mackintosh's new staging (*** out of four stars), which opened Sunday at the Imperial Theatre, offers as much bombast as ever. There are thundering performances of Schönberg's syrupy, repetitive score (with new orchestrations), a vast, creepy set (by Matt Kinley) inspired by Hugo's paintings and a company of accomplished troupers who gamely glower and fret under Laurence Connor and James Powell's heavy-handed direction. For the rest of us, luckily, there is another compelling reason to check out this production: its leading man, Ramin Karimloo...Perhaps we'll have the good fortune to see Karimloo tackle Billy Bigelow or Sweeney Todd in the future, or perform in an original musical that can more fully accommodate his robust gifts as a singer and actor. For now, this LES MISERABLES will have to suffice."

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: "The revelation is Ramin Karimloo, an Iranian-born Canadian who is well known in London but makes his Broadway debut here. As Jean Valjean, the petty criminal turned respected citizen still on the run from the law, Karimloo projects a masculine authority that cannily reveals hidden pockets of vulnerability. He's blessed with matinee-idol looks and a crystalline tenor that pierces the back rows of the Imperial Theatre. With apologies to Hugh Jackman, his may be the best sung, best acted Valjean I've ever seen. Will Swenson (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) has never sounded better as the by-the-book Inspector Javert, who has been chasing Valjean for decades, though his performance at times edges toward the bombastic...The rest of the cast is mostly solid...In [Karimloo's] solos, ''Who Am I?'' and particularly ''Bring Him Home,'' not only does he inject each phrase with feeling and musicality but he fully embodies the message of the song. There's not a gesture, not a head bob out of place. At the end of the day, he brings the most luster to this stirring revival."

Linda Winer, Newsday: "But nothing in this return of the Victor Hugo popera has the musty feel of the road. The chorus has been impeccably drilled and, except for a few ragged voices at the barricades, the whores, beggars and ruffians of pre-revolutionary France keep a fine balance between robust singing and acting. And speaking of real finds, Gaten Matarazzo, who played little Gavroche at the preview I saw, is a star. And then there is Karimloo, whose Valjean evolves from a feral, hotheaded convict into a dashing, dignified hero without a shadow of Hugh Jackman from the 2012 movie on his brow. Karimloo's voice has a rare purity and focus and, though we would expect his low tenor to strain for the stratospheric notes in "Bring Him Home," he even finds the finesse and stamina to be tender in it...Nikki M. James shows vast range in her a touching, street-wise Eponine, with a lush yet piercing voice. Caissie Levy makes a poignant Fantine...For those of us in the minority, "Les Miz" remains Masterpiece Musical at its most earnest, marred by cumulative bellowing and politics so fuzzy-edged that they never get beyond a generic storm-the-barricades fervor. But if we need to have "Les Miz" -- and obviously, we do -- I pick this one."

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "Who is he? Who is he? He's Ramin Karimloo, and as Jean Valjean, he's the main reason to reacquaint yourself with the "newly reimagined" revival of "Les Miserables," now open at the Imperial Theatre... this "Les Miz" is Karimloo's story. I was awed by the actor's soaring voice, particularly during the final notes of "Bring Him Home," which seem to last blissfully forever. He's captivating and charismatic...Ultimately, the dynamic between his Javert and Karimloo's Valjean feels a bit askew. How could anyone, really, possess the gravitas of this Valjean, and thus seem a suitable rival? Still, Swenson's second act soliloquy, in which he pledges to escape from the world of Jean Valjean, is a high point."

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: "Despite that running time, this reboot feels faster, grittier, gloomier and, above all, more emphatic than ever, which is saying something for a show that was always an unrelenting assault on the tear ducts...Ramin Karimloo has been celebrated for his musical theater performances in London, but his Broadway debut has been a long time coming and he doesn't disappoint. His Jean Valjean has the brawn and the brooding demeanor of a man who has endured two decades of incarcerated hard labor on minor charges. But he also brings the requisite spiritual elevation of the transformed Valjean, without forcing the victimized character's saintliness...Sure, there's no disguising the Cliffs Notes feel of the adaptation. The storytelling is so compacted that plot points whiz by like blurred subway stops on an express train, making this less a narrative than a machine...But the inbuilt emotional sensations of the show are what matter. Judging by the vocal crowd response when favorite characters appear (even the plucky urchin Gavroche gets screaming entrance applause), or when the first bars of one of the endlessly refrained key musical motifs are heard, story is no longer the point. This critic-proof production will likely speak loudest to young audiences coming to it onstage relatively fresh - not those of us who have been anesthetized by 30 years of over-exposure. And maybe that's just as it should be."

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: "The well-traveled "Les Miserables" has rolled into town for its third bite at the Broadway apple - not to mention fresh off a celebrated 2012 film - but there's nothing tiresome about its gloomy, aching heartbeat...It's beautifully sung and acted - Ramin Karimloo, Will Swenson, Caissie Levy and Nikki M. James as leads can do no wrong - and the clever sets, superb lighting and moving projections highlight a creative team fully embracing Victor Hugo's epic novel about good and evil, revolution and romance, in 19th-century France...Projections by Fifty-Nine Productions are subtle until brilliant, especially the plunge into the sewers in Act 2. There is no massive spinning turntable on the stage, as in previous incarnations, but it isn't missed...The hits keep coming, and thanks to reprises, keep coming: "I Dreamed a Dream," ''Do You Hear the People Sing?" and "One Day More." The melodies are as grandiose as the story. And here, the voices and look of the show wonderfully match. Bring your flag."

Matt Windman, amNY: "The revival is disheartening for those who were raised on the original show, which had an elegant and extremely effective simplicity. What "Les Miz" really needs is a rest. Too much of even a great musical can be nauseating. This "Les Miz" feels less like a revival than a ritual."

David Finkle, Huffington Post: "At this point, Les Miserables is entrenched in our culture as a musical for the ages. You can't beat it with a stick. So just go ahead and beat a path to it. And when you do, notice that on the program the sole producer named is Cameron Mackintosh. How often does that happen nowadays? Like never?"

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