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BWW Reviews: LES MISERABLES - A Pristine, Perfect Production From Top to Bottom

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The people are joyously singing at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts this week. The fourth national tour of Cameron Mackintosh's worldwide phenomenon and smash hit production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's musical LES MISERABLES is a different production from the last time the show was in town. The 25th anniversary of the musical in English brought about changes to the production design and new orchestrations, which have been immaculately preserved for the new national tour. The current production has removed the giant revolve from the staging and replaced it with enhanced lighting, new and fabulous projections, and an intricate and complex set. Every well utilized technical element in the new tour is the best that modern technology has to offer theatrical experiences.

Laurence Connor and James Powell's direction of the current tour is energetic and lively from opening to close. There are cleverly paid notes of homage to Trevor Nunn and John Caird's original direction of the piece. Yet, the team really takes advantage of being able to breathe new life into the show, almost completely restaging every scene. Likewise, they have taken the opportunity to present a grittier and more realistic LES MISERABLES. The cheery polish of the 1987 Broadway production has been entirely removed. The proletariats look filthy and bereft of any quality of life, showcasing how miserable they truly are. Mannerisms and the way the cast carry their bodies on stage reflect their social standings as well, emphasizing the disparity of French social classes in the early 1800s.

Starring as Jean Valjean, the charismatic and charming Peter Lockyer fascinates and entrances the audience with his crisp and powerful dramatic tenor instrument. Valjean's "Soliloquy," "Who Am I?," and "Bring Him Home" soar off the stage and affect the audience with grace and practiced poise. In addition to manipulating emotions with his masterful vocals, Peter Lockyer commands the audience with genuine and perfected acting ability. The audience watches him transform from a youthful and vibrant man freed from prison to an aged and dying man, and no step along the arc is anything short of being pristinely believable.

As the villainous yet altogether human Javert, Andrew Varela is simply stunning. After his performance of "Stars," a palpable buzz of electricity filled the auditorium eliciting thunderous applause and cheers. My legs tingled to stand and deliver a standing ovation at that very moment. He continued to impress the audience with his authoritative, booming and rich bass-baritone instrument on numbers like "The Confrontation" and Javert's "Soliloquy." Moreover, Andrew Varela makes his Javert empathetic, presenting him as a man that longs to be moral, righteous, and to do his job to the best of his ability.

Playing Marius, Max Quinlan has a great presence on the stage and stirs the audience with his luxurious tenor voice. Compared to the bombastic power of the other male leads, his soft and elegiac rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" (which is also fantastically staged) is delightfully heartbreaking and emotional. Max Quinlan captures and displays Marius' charisma and easily wins the audience to his favor, leaving us no option but to root for him to survive the attack on the barricade and get the girl.

Briana Carson-Goodman's Éponine is a fully-realized revelation. She commands the stage with her tomboy presence, easily proving to the audience that she is just as tough as the male students at the barricade. Mix in Briana Carson-Goodman's gorgeous mezzo-soprano instrument, and her Éponine gently finds her place in our hearts, leaving us devastated after "On My Own" and in emotional shambles at the end of "A Little Fall of Rain."

Fantine, sung by Betsy Morgan, is incredibly powerful and strong. Her approach brings the audience to a refreshingly different and bombastic rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." Betsy Morgan fills the stage and the auditorium with personality, pizzazz, and a wall of sound, which leaves the audience breathlessly stunned for all the right reasons. Her softer side is displayed during the heart rending "Come to Me."

Bubbling with magnetism and infectious charisma, Jason Forbach ensures that Enjolras is memorable and one of the audience's favorite characters in the show. His impeccable vocals and skilled acting chops rally and stir the audience just as much as they do the characters in the story.

As adult Cosette, Lauren Wiley brings a gentle elegance to the part. She is not your altogether typical helpless and lost heroine, but she definitely relies on the men in her life for guidance. Vocally, her soprano instrument blends well in the ensemble numbers, but in solo moments, I found her to be a bit too similar to Betsy Joslyn's shrill portrayal of Johanna in SWEENEY TODD for my tastes.

Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, played by Timothy Gulan and Shawna M. Hamic respectively, are wonderful comedic characters that lighten the mood of the show at all the right moments. Both of these actors have a flawless sense of comedic timing and have added layers of depth to their characters, ensuring that they are both hilarious and relatable. Moreover, they obviously have fun playing the characters that the audience loves to hate because they are so splendidly vile and disgusting in every way imaginable.

Erin Cearlock's Little Cosette, Abbey Rose Gould's Young Éponine, and Hayden Wall's Gavroche are all spectacularly portrayed. Each of these young performers displays true and blossoming talent that will hopefully lead them each through a successful career in the theatre.

The rest of the company, in all of the many and often thankless roles they assume in the show, are equally deserving of multitudes of sincere, heartfelt praise. The show LES MISERABLES is only as good as its supporting cast and ensemble allows it to be, and each member of this large cast carries their own weight in ensuring that the performance is immaculate, awe-inspiring, and beautiful from beginning to end. No single actor or actress does a poor job in the show, filling each and every inch of the stage with tangible chemistry and energy. This show's success is as much theirs, if not more so, as any person named in the review so far, as they make sure that the leads can successfully tell their stories in every performance.

Set design by Matt Kinley is inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, who wrote the novel that the show is based on, and is nothing short of phenomenal. It is expansive, detailed, articulate, and versatile. It is constantly shifting and changing to portray many differing locations. No matter what combination it is in, it is alluring and evocative. This intricate set amazes and takes the breath away from the opening scene, with a crew rowing a boat, to the final scene in Jean Valjean's private quarters. Other stand out moments include the reveal of the factory that Fantine works in and the much anticipated and superbly realized barricade.

A large portion of Andreane Neofitou Tony nominated costume design remains intact for this production. Christine Rowland designed new and additional pieces. The two designers' costuming seamlessly blends together. Each costume perfectly represents the time period. Furthermore, no detail is overlooked, so no matter how grimy and dingy the costume may look, every piece is captivating and beautiful in its own way.

Fifty-Nine Productions projections are perfectly utilized to create cinematic movement on the stage and to display locale. The expertly designed and displayed projections never look cheesy or contrived, showcasing how brilliant a medium this can be when used properly. Simply put, this is the best use of projections that this reviewer has ever seen.

Sound design by Mick Potter is superb in every aspect. The brilliant and skilled orchestra is always crisply audible but never overpowers the vocals being projected from the stage. Every sound effect and musical note is perfectly balanced and enjoyed by the entire audience. Despite being performed live, the audio mixing is so fine-tuned and clean that it truly has the polished studio feel that we expect from albums while delivering every ounce of the live energy flowing from the pit and stage before us.

The 25th Anniversary Production of LES MISERABLES may possibly be the best theatrical event to ever have been played in the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Looking back on its 10-year history, I cannot think of a single piece of theatre that was so pristinely fine-tuned and immaculate in every sense of production value. This touring production is one that audiences will remember for years to come, and those who were not fortunate enough to snatch up tickets while they were available will always regret not being there to see this one. For those who have purchased tickets you're in for a spectacular treat. For those hoping to get tickets, may eBay and Craigslist be ever in your favor.

LES MISERABLES only runs through Sunday, November 11, 2012 on the Hobby Center's Sarofim stage. For more information, visit www.thehobbycenter.org.

Photo Credit: Deen van Meer


The cast of LES MISERABLES performs "Lovely Ladies."


The cast of LES MISERABLES performs "One Day More."


The cast of LES MISERABLES performs "A Little Fall of Rain."


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