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BWW Review: Looking Down on LES MISERABLES at Old National Centre


Les Miserables

It is a simple act to overlook those beneath you as you go about your daily life, eager to get to the next appointment or entertainment. All of this hubbub is a distraction from what goes on in the alleys and dark areas where you'd rather not look. But if you manage to "look down," you'll see and meet the indomitable spirit that is LES MISÉRABLES.


There is grit coupled with dignity that characterizes this musical, and that odd admixture finds its zenith in the character of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who embarks on a journey first burdened by a sense of revenge and then transmuted in the light of honesty and faith. Nick Cartell brings this unique character to life on the stage of the Old National Centre. His voice was a sublime vehicle for sharing this incredible story. His masterful use of dynamics and unfaltering, clear timbre made his performance empowering and stirring to all present. The pathos he feels working as a slave and the redemption he feels as he gives his life over to God are all not only thoroughly felt but resonate long after the last note.

Jean Valjean's foil and nemesis, the inspector Javert, is played by Josh Davis. It would seem nearly impossible to match the presence of Valjean, but Javert, in his own right, had a strong presence, potent and ominous. Mr. Davis shows a great depth of understanding of his character in the way he carries himself, stiff as a lifeless and heartless corpse, and even in the way he enunciates every note sung. This attention to detail lends the listener some insight into the obsessive personality of this upright yet tortured man.

The juxtaposition of these men shows the depravity of the most dignified and the unrelenting goodness of those seen as the vermin of society. Yet, it seems that justice is served as the play almost ends as it began but with a reversal of fortunes. The same way in which we see Valjean tortured with revenge, hair disheveled, and mind crazed with a sense of injustice is mirrored by Javert as he finds his orderly world rocked by the mercy and faith of the man who should be a vilified criminal as the story comes full circle.

This story would not be complete, however, without the innocence and naiveté of the young men and women who take part in the uprising against the aristocracy and dictatorship. Their cries are heard as they raise a barricade, hoping against hope to show that those below have a voice worth hearing. It is amongst this turmoil that the love triangle of Cosette (Jillian Butler), Marius (Robert Ariza), and Éponine (Talia Simone Robinson) was born and found its end, both tragic and triumphant, upon the remnants of the barricade. The sweet and tender melodies they share show how hopeful their youth makes them and also how blind to the stark realities of war and poverty.

Finally, it would be negligent to leave out the much-needed comic relief of the Thénardiers in their raucous and bawdy inn. Madam Thénardier in particular (Allison Guinn) provided quite a few laughs trying to become "bosom" buddies with Jean Valjean (pun intended). The slight growl and rough edge she used in her vocals underscored that some of those in the gutter revel in it and take advantage of it in any way they can.


I am going to completely preface this review with a quick note about myself - I have never seen Les Miserables (movie or show) before. There, I said it, and now let's move on to the review. My lovely wife has already covered the acting and singing quality, so I will be working off of the tech side of things.

I image that there have been some deviations made in the decades since Les Mis first premiered in Paris. The staging turntable that was once an incredible, revolutionary piece of theatrical scenery is gone. It has now been replaced with a stage that gives the show a new and updated aesthetic, and somehow the Directors, Laurence Connor and James Powell, were able to expertly streamline the storytelling by moving the production's already quick pace to an even quicker level to engage a modern audience. In the turntable's place, this production of Les Mis is built around a proscenium stage, with artistic, eerie projections. The art evokes of a style that Victor Hugo himself would be proud of, and it provides the audience with a visual guide to the city with the scenes ranging from the dark and dismal ocean to a trip in the labyrinth of tunnels in the Paris sewer system.

The costuming, wonderfully designed by Adreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland were expertly crafted and Matt Kinley's incredible set and images (literally based on images by Victor Hugo) provide a topnotch backdrop for the action. As a techie, if any part of the production design could really be the star of the show last night, it would have to be the intense lighting design by Paule Constable, which perfectly recreated the world of Hugo's France with admirable skill. The lighting was absolutely breathtaking and gorgeous, and it really helped focus the attention of the audience with ease and created a sense of wonderment as the story unfolded.

Musical Director and Conductor Brian Eads led the orchestra, who provided a stirring accompaniment to the time-test work. They performed with passion and expertise, ensuring that Les Mis will be enjoyable to all audiences.

This musical leaves you with a sense of purpose, a sense that you need to stand and march with the spirit of these people, LES MISÉRABLES, as they look to the dawn and "tomorrow comes." Do not miss your chance to join in their spirit of revolution and be sure to purchase your ticket soon as this show will be moving on after March 18th.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

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