BWW Review: Les Misérables is Glorious at The Landmark Theatre

BWW Review: Les Misérables is Glorious at The Landmark Theatre
The U.S. Touring company of Les Misérables. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

One the most acclaimed musicals in theatrical history is now performing at Syracuse's Landmark Theater as part of The Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series: Broadway in Syracuse. As presented by Cameron Mackintosh, the Tony Award-winning musical phenomenon Les Misérables is back with a fantastic new staging and breathtaking scenery.

The new touring production, based on most recent Broadway revival (running two and a half years with much acclaim), still features the familiar and powerful music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, and the story and characters we all know. The refreshing and visually stunning production is directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell.

The well-known musical is, of course, based on the 1862 classic novel by Victor Hugo. Set in 19th century France, the musical centers on the plight of convicted thief - prisoner 24601 - Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell). He is now out of jail, looking for redemption after serving a long and tormented 19-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. A merciful bishop (Andrew Maughan) inspires Valjean to find a love for religion and seek mercy. To escape his past, Valjean breaks his parole so that he can start his life over. It's not easy though because he is constantly hunted by Inspector Javert (Josh Davis).

Valjean, now a Mayor, meets Fantine (Mary Kate Moore) in a factory. Fantine and some of the other girls are facing a problem with the Factory Foreman (Christopher Viljoen). Hopeless and without income, Fantine is then forced to work on the street, eventually becoming severely ill and injured. Valjean finds Fantine and swears on his life that that he will protect and raise her young child, Cosette (Cate Elefante as the young Cosette), which was Fantine's dying wish. Valjean leads a very lonely, separated, and cautious life in Paris with his new adopted daughter, now grown up. The revolutionary period of France comes about and a group of students attempt to overthrow the government, setting up a barricade.

Love, passion, crushed dreams, and trials of the human spirit are all addressed in this glorious and captivating musical.

On opening night in Syracuse, energy and excitement filled the theater as soon as the first notes of the "Prologue" soared from Brian Eads' pit orchestra (new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe, and Stephen Broker). The intensity, passion, and power of the amazing score is made clear from the first note.

The familiar musical numbers come to life beautifully thanks to the talents of the powerhouse cast. Their performances are enhanced by the new staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt along with impressively realistic projections realized by Fifty-nine productions. The reimagined scenery was inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo.

The set does not feature a turntable, something many have come to associate with Les Mis. While I liked much of the new staging, I must say I missed the turntable during the barricade scene. In this production, the barricade scene simply splits in half and then student leader Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker) is wheeled on stage in a wagon with the flag. That choice, although still emotional, made the very epic battle scene on the barricade lose its usual intensity - at least for me. Shingledecker, however, gives an intense and breathtaking performance as Enjolras as he leads "The People's Song."

As Jean Valjean, Nick Cartell effortlessly hits those glorious high notes in numbers such as "Who Am I?" and the chilling "Bring Him Home." Cartell, though a bit younger than one would expect to see in the role, beautifully captures the power, strength, and impressive accomplishments of Jean Valjean.

Josh Davis with his stern facial features, powerful vocals, and confidence is the perfect fit to play the intense role of Javert. Davis delivers a chilling rendition of "Stars" and powerfully reveals the torment his character is facing in "Soliloquy." Javert's suicide features impressive and creative staging and special effects. Davis is a true standout in the role.

Mary Kate Moore astonishes as Fantine with her emotional vocals, powerful acting, and commanding stage presence. She sings a powerful "I Dreamed a Dream" and showcases deep and powerful chemistry with Cartell in "Fantine's Death."

The always entertaining number "Master of the House" does not disappoint, featuring Allison Guinn as the feisty Madame Thénardier and J Anthony Crane as the sly Thénardier backed by the entertaining ensemble. Guinn's energy, over-the-top facial expressions, and comedic timing are perfection. Crane delivers a spot-on comedic portrayal of Thénardier and his creepy performance of "Dog Eats Dog" is especially memorable.

Paige Smallwood as Éponine - the Thénardier's daughter - showcases some powerful and impressive vocals. Her rendition of "On My Own" is truly stunning. She sings her heart out and captures so much of the character's struggles and emotions with her commanding performance. Smallwood's vocal power rightly stunned the opening night audience. She delivers an equally emotional performance of "A Little Fall of Rain" along with Joshua Grosso as Marius - the man she loves who is in love with Cosette.

Speaking of Joshua Grosso, he certainly makes Marius his own. His portrayal is full of comedic charm showing the nerves Marius most cope with as he is falling for the lovely Cosette (Jillian Butler), now an adult. His ability to add his own personality to the character and chemistry with Paige Smallwood and Jillian Butler help make his role more likeable. His impressive vocals also make the character standout. He delivers a beautiful and emotional performance of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables."

Jillian Butler's grace, poise, and beauty is perfect for the role of Cosette. Her angelic soprano soars and her onstage chemistry with Grosso in numbers such as "In My Life" and "A heart Full of Love" makes these moments especially poignant.

Let's not forget the younger performers in this production. The roles of little Cosette, young Éponine, and Gavroche are played by different kids depending on the night (there's a rotation). The night I saw this production Cate Elefante took on the role of little Cosette. "Castle on a Cloud" showcased her sweet and adorable voice. Aubin Bradley portrayed young Éponine and she charmed in the role. Parker Dzuba with his light blonde hair, big expressive eyes, and even bigger personality, often stole the spotlight as Gavroche, the endearing and determined young boy who hangs around with the outspoken and politically-minded students. Dzuba shows "what little people can do" with his impressive performance of Gavroche.

Other visually stunning and standout numbers include "At the End of the Day," "Lovely Ladies," "ABC Café," and the emotional "Drink with Me to Days Gone By." Other favorite moments include the female ensemble performing "Turning" and the powerful "Wedding Chorale." Frankly, every number is striking in this production, which is a good thing because this is a show where the vocals take center stage. The entire cast delivers glorious and passionate performances.

If you have seen this musical before or have never seen it, this fiery and passionate North American tour does not disappoint.

Running time: Three hours with one fifteen-minute intermission.

The national touring production of Les Misérables runs through March 31, 2019 at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, New York as part of the Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series: Broadway in Syracuse. For tickets and information on the national tour of Les Misérables, click here. For tickets and information on The Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series: Broadway in Syracuse, click here.

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From This Author Natasha Ashley

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