BWW Review: Les Misèrables - Staged Perfection
The magic of Victor Hugo's LES MISÈRABLES is undeniable. Since the novel was published in 1862, the sweeping tale has become a cornerstone of worldwide literature. Adaptations have been penned for big and small screens and of course turned into the epic musical that debuted in French in Paris in 1980. Just a few years later the English version made its way to London's West End where it played until earlier this year. Turning one of the longest novels ever written into a three hour stage production, is quite a feat itself, but making it one of the most popular shows in history is the real trick. Audiences everywhere have been entranced by the story with its themes of love and what it takes to be a family. The majestic score has become a classic and a favorite of millions. The story follows Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell), a convict who has been paroled into the French countryside after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. Valjean breaks parole because as a marked man, he cannot find honest work. But in breaking the rules he has incurred the eternal wrath of Inspector Javert, who is relentless in his pursuit of lawbreakers. After being redeemed by a bishop, Valjean becomes a new man and becomes a community leader. Through a series of events he meets dying Fantine (Mary Kate Moore) and takes her daughter Cosette (Little Cosette Annabelle Cole) as his own. Years pass and Valjean has successfully evaded capture but when Cosette (Jullian Butler) falls in love with young revolutarinary Marius (Josh Grosso) events take a dangerous turn. The rest of the story is filled with tragedy and joy, a human saga that has made the tale so popular for over a hundred years.
This particular tour adds depth and a whole new bag of technical wizardry into the mix as well as a truly stellar cast that make LES MISÈRABLES at Bass Concert Hall a real treat. The set, designed by Matt Kinley centers around Victor Hugo's own paintings in a way that wasn't possible before. The use of mind blowing projections create an environment on stage that draws the audience into the experience. There is no turntable used for this production, instead a magical stage deck smoothly glides massive set pieces on and off stage. As a fan of technical theatre, I was simply wowed; advances in visual effects are used to perfection allowing for movement and setting change without conventional backdrops. The artistry involved is superior. Lighting designed by Paule Constable is extraordinary in its use of pure, bright white backlighting to virtually freeze a moment in time. Laurence Connor and James Powell's direction is beautiful and flows from scene to scene fluidly.
The cast is amazing from top to bottom. Every actor is perfectly cast and standouts are too numerous to mention here, but a few performances touched my heart. Nick Cartell plays Jean Valjean with heart and clarity of purpose, his lovely tenor voice echoes in the mind. As the villain Javert, Josh Davis is equal parts menacing and brooding, his singleness of purpose sealing his fate. As Madam Thènardier, Allison Guinness is the comic centerpiece to the show and the audience roared its approval at her every move. But it's Paige Smallwood as Eponine who captures our heart and holds it in her hands. Her portrayal of the renegade girl whose unrequited love leads to her death is deeply touching. My one quibble with the acting is Matt Shingledecker as Enjolras. While doing a fine job with the role, he continually raises his musket over his head in the signature 'Les Miz' revolutionary gesture. I found that the repetition rendered the gesture completely meaningless, once or twice has impact, eight times looks like a poor acting choice. Gestures aside the production is simply marvelous and the improvements to the production enhance the experience tenfold.
This production of LES MISÈRABLES is brilliant, worthy of attending even if you have seen other productions a dozen times.
A musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Directed by Laurence Conner and James Powell
Bass Concert Hall, Austin
Running Time - 3 hours with one 15 minute intermission
Tickets - $45 - $145 texasperformingarts.org