BWW Review: Touring Production Gives New Life to LES MISERABLES at DCPA

BWW Review: Touring Production Gives New Life to LES MISERABLES at DCPA

In the history of musical theater certain shows have had their place in time while others seem to transcend lifetimes. Parents bring their children to the same musical that their parents brought them to at their age and suddenly a new family tradition has started. The nice thing about traditions is that they grow and evolve, just like the latest show to come to DCPA: The new touring production of Les Miserables.

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miz follows, mainly, the life and times of Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's child. After his release from prison, he is shown kindness from a Bishop who spares his life in exchange for going out and making something of himself. In doing so, he breaks his parole leading to one of the main struggles of the show between he and his former captor, Inspector Javert. Along the way, this historical piece introduces us to a myriad of characters who all have their place of value throughout the production. From a couple of low-life innkeepers to the young men and women who defend the barricade in their fight for freedom, Les Miserables offers both a heartfelt and heart-wrenching story that is sure to leave everyone impressed, especially with this cast and crew.

I have had many opportunities to see and perform in this show, including once on West End. With high standards, it was clear from the beginning that this production would reach and surpass what expectations I had walking into the theater. If nothing else, this interpretation has given new life that I didn't know it needed until sitting in that chair. Some of the more iconic staging and design elements that we have come to expect from productions of Les Miz, such as the infamous rotating stage, were nowhere in sight, nor were they sorely missed. What first looks like a simpler, yet detailed, stage design evolves into towering set pieces that seem to come out of nowhere. Little nuances have been implemented in the stage direction that give more understanding to the audience about certain aspects or relationships in the show.

As the downbeat of the show commenced, thunderous applause filled the audience well before any voice rang out from the stage. The performances throughout the production were second to none. I have often seen this show in which strong singers who can act are cast in the leading roles. The show is so demanding, vocally, that those with enough stamina to even sing through the whole thing must be present. This cast is full of strong actors who can sing - incredibly well - and special recognition must be given to the ensemble. The first portion of the show is very heavy on all-female voice ensemble numbers, and these ladies did not disappoint. I always love when I can tell a specific vocal direction has been given to attain a certain sound. Unique stylings are a clear example of music directors doing more than telling their ensemble to "sing pretty." Then came the boys' turn, who were as equally impressive in their ensemble sound and character portrayal. Les Miz also offers plenty of opportunity for ensemble members to be recognized. I deeply appreciated that every actor gave a real personality to the characters they portrayed, even if all they sang was, "and in a bed." Notable ensemble members include Bree Murphy, Maggie Elizabeth May, and Monte J. Howell, all of whom played multiple smaller roles throughout the show.

The leading players in the production were also all in their element. As Fantine, a young mother doing her best to provide for her child, Mary Kate Moore could not have been a better fit. Moore's strong presence gives Fantine an edge that we don't often see in the role; a sense of perseverance to the very end versus playing her as if she has nothing left. Playing Cosette, Jillian Butler is simply angelic. There was one moment in which she gracefully ascended to the top note of a stanza of music that made me throw my hands up in the air, as if to say, "Well that's not fair, she's not even human." In the role of Marius, Joshua Grosso is everything that Marius should be: kind and not always sure-footed. Whether it be fighting against his oppressors or talking to a cute girl, Grosso finds a way to let the audience connect to someone who wants to say/do the right thing, but his flustered personality doesn't always guide him to the answers. A truly genuine performance, Grosso's vocals are also a perfect fit. In the role of Eponine, the rebel-esque girl who pines for Marius, Emily Bautista is astonishing. A girl who "knows her way around," Bautista gives the perfect balance between independence from others and dependence based in love and admiration. Her heartfelt interpretations of "On My Own" and "A Little Fall of Rain" are sure to have you reaching for those tissues. As an identifiable leader in the revolution, Nicholas Edwards as Enjolras is strong in his portrayal. His unique, yet trained, vocals offer a little more character to the role compared to other actors I have seen. As an amateur covert operative, Sam Middleton as Gavroche reminds us all to always take children seriously. Although a young role, Middleton performs incredibly well and stands his own among those three times his age, as does Sophie Knapp in the role of Young Cosette. As both the comic relief of the show and clear antagonists, Julie Cardia and J. Anthony Crane as the Thenardiers are exactly what they needed to be. Cardia is a genius with comedic timing and Crane moreso. I also appreciated that while the rest of the cast sings from a place of technique and classical stylings, the pair hone in on what makes these characters so vulgar and attribute those qualities over to their singing. It is a choice that may not work for all productions, but for this it really hit the nail on the head.

Often times, there is worry that the leading players will have to "carry" the show if the rest of the actors and ensemble are not of high quality. Although not this show, the two leading men in this touring production certainly lead the charge. Josh Davis as Javert gives one of the best interpretations of Javert I have had the pleasure of seeing. His strong vocals and even stronger character choices and presence give the other characters he interacts with real cause for worry if they see him coming. As the titular Jean Valjean, Nick Cartell truly brings down the house. As mentioned earlier, this show demands vocal stamina from its performers, especially in Valjean. Cartell does what few can do and at no point throughout the three hour performance does he falter. Every note is sung as he intends; every moment considered; every reaction thought through. It is not often that someone gives the performance of a lifetime. I am blessed to have been in the room where it happened.

This touring production, out of any, is a microcosm of what is going on in today's society. It is often through works of fiction - lies - that the truth about ourselves and the greater world around us is realized when the bigger picture is set in front of you. Above all, Les Miserables encourages us to fight; to never give up against the hand of the oppressor. It tells us to look towards, "one more dawn, one more day, one day more."

Les Miserables plays at DCPA July 25 - August 5, 2018. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.denvercenter.org/tickets-events/les-miserables/ or call (303) 893-4100, open 10:00AM - 8:00PM.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

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