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BWW Review: LES MISERABLES at Wharton Center Thrives With Reimagined Staging and An Exceptional Cast

Les Miserables
ABC Cafe and Matt Shingledecker as Enjolras
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Want the opportunity to see one of the most well-known musicals of all time in your very own hometown? Just until this Sunday, November 17th, you can witness the pure artistry that is Les Misérables at Wharton Center for Performing Arts in East Lansing. Originally written in French by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, and Jean-Marc Natel, Les Misérables made its English-language debut in 1985's West End production. It soon made its way to Broadway in 1987, where it claimed eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. This original production ran for an astounding 16 years. To say it's a worldwide phenomenon is, somehow, an understatement.

It's difficult to sum up the story of Les Misérables. It was based off of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, which devoted fans have labeled as "The Brick" due to it being more than 1000 pages long. In brief, this is a story focused on 19th-century France and paroled convict Jean Valjean. After serving 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, he goes on to forge a new life for himself and leave Jean Valjean behind. The other significant plot of the show involves young revolutionaries building a street barricade in a noble attempt to overthrow the government.

Les Misérables is one of those shows that you should see whenever you get the chance to. Not only is it a significant piece of Broadway (and world) history, but it's also a reminder of the importance of love, friendship, and a sense of self when the odds are stacked against you.

Having since forgotten about various new elements of this production that I saw on Broadway in 2014, it was a real treat to see the same staging at Wharton five years later. The direction and the scenery successfully brings this show into the 21st century, very similar to the tour of Miss Saigon that came to East Lansing earlier this year. During this performance, I noted that this iteration of Les Misérables was able to pay homage to its roots by not changing much while still giving the show an overall facelift.

One such example of this is "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." While in other interpretations Marius sat at a table alone while the ghosts of his friends stood behind him, this version of the song showed an injured Marius pick up a freshly lit candle while his deceased friends perfectly mimicked his movements. This made the most heart wrenching song in the show even more powerful.

Les Miserables
Joshua Grosso as Marius
Photo by Matthew Murphy

While this cast was absolutely top notch, there are a few members I'd like to applaud specifically, the first naturally being Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean. Makeup and hair aside, his journey through the years was palpable simply by the way he moved and sounded. A highlight of his performance for me was his solo number "Bring Him Home" in act two.

Josh Davis as Javert was another gem. He somehow played Javert's descent into madness with grace and a fine tuning that doesn't come easy. One number during which you can expect your mouth to drop open is his act two "Soliloquy."

Les Miserables
Josh Davis as Javert and Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Despite the iconic logo being a young girl, it's evident that Les Misérables is a story driven by men. That said, the actresses in this cast are the best they come, and it helps because the music in this show is some of the best ever written. (I said what I said.) Among my personal favorite performances in this show was Paige Smallwood's "On My Own," which was quite literally breathtaking. It was a showstopper to end all other showstoppers. Another excellent actress in this cast was Allison Guinn as Madame Thénardier. My favorite scene of hers was "Master Of The House," in which she hacked up a baguette and made the audience howl with laughter at her exaggerated displeasure.

Les Miserables
Allison Guinn as Madame Thénardier
Photo by Matthew Murphy

It's also important to give shoutouts to understudies whenever you get the opportunity to see them. In this case, I got the pleasure of seeing Kelsey DeNae as Fantine. Her rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream" properly illustrated how Fantine has a glimmer of hope at the beginning that fades to nothing by the end. It was powerful and chilling at the same time.

Regardless of who you get to see in this cast, you can nevertheless expect a high-quality performance from everyone involved. There's on doubt you'll feel all the proper emotions, and each one will give you a welcomed gut punch.

Buy now - tickets are selling fast!

For more information and tickets, call 1-800-WHARTON, check out Wharton Center online at, or visit the Auto-Owners Insurance Ticket Office at Wharton Center.

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From This Author Stefani Chudnow