Review: LES MISERABLES at Des Moines Performing Arts

The epic masterpiece returns for its 9th engagement in Des Moines.

By: Mar. 02, 2024
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Review: LES MISERABLES at Des Moines Performing Arts
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One of the great things about the Des Moines Performing Arts Broadway series is that it not only introduces us to new productions in their season ticket package, but there are also a few shows you can purchase as an add-on that have stood the test of time. This week, they are bringing the musical "Les Miserables" back for its 9th engagement since it first came to Des Moines in 1989. Why do they keep bringing back this show? Partly because it brings in an audience. For many people, "Les Miserables" is one of the first shows they had the opportunity to see, so seeing it again brings the memory of that performance that sparked a love for seeing theatre. The other reason is that after premiering in London almost 30 years ago, the musical is still as powerful today as it was then.

"Les Miserables" tells the story of prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean, who is released from prison for stealing a loaf of bread and breaking a window pane of a house. After being released, he breaks his parole. From that moment on, he is chased by Javert for the rest of his life. Along his journey, he comes across Fantine, who was unfairly let go from his factory when the workers found out she was sending her money to support her daughter Cosette. When she dies, he takes it upon himself to find and raise Cosette as his own daughter. All of this is just a portion of the first act of this epic story.

Now, if you are expecting the original production, this is different. The show was reimagined in London in 2009 for its 25th anniversary. This is the version that now tours the United States and played a two-and-a-half-year run on Broadway. Having seen this production the last time the tour came through, I could appreciate it in a new way.  

The first time the tour came through, I was in awe of how massive Set and Image Design by Matt Kinley felt. This time, I took in how quickly it was able to be changed from scene to scene. Sometimes, it was done under very low lighting; other times, it was done behind a wall during a scene or song.  

The lighting design by Paule Constable also proves to be a powerful tool for storytelling throughout the show. One of the most impactful lighting moments that came through the show was how he used lighting to signify the death of many characters within the show. Each time a death occurred, the actor was enveloped by a heavenly white light from above. It added to the emotional impact of each scene.

While the show is a masterpiece to watch, it's just as masterful to listen to. The cast does a phenomenal job with the harmonies throughout the show, along with outstanding performances. A special call-out is deserved for Kyle Adams, Ben Cherington, Mikako Martin, Juliette Redden, Ashley Dawn Mortensen, and Kaitlyn Sumner for stepping up as understudies for multiple roles throughout the show.

At the show's center are two performers that Des Moines Audiences have seen before. Nick Cartell plays Valjean. He played the role last time the tour came through Des Moines before the pandemic. His rendition of "Bring Him Home," was hauntingly beautiful and stopped the show on opening night.  

Preston Truman Boyd returns to the Civic Center stage as Javert. He was last seen in Des Moines as The Monster in "Young Frankenstein." I appreciated that his performance allowed the audience to see Javert's drive for justice, right or wrong. He also delves into the struggle Javert has throughout the show to push to find Valjean.

Whether you are returning to see "Les Miserables" or seeing it for the first time, you will see why Des Moines Performing Arts continues to bring the show back. From the epic story to the beautiful harmonies, from the grand sets to the powerful lighting, and from the phenomenal harmonies from the ensemble to the nuanced performances from the leads, this is a show that sticks with audiences. If you want to see this beautiful production, it plays for a limited time through March 3.  To find out more or to purchase tickets, click the button below.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy