Review: LES MISERABLES Stuns Once More at the Marcus Center

An Iconic Show Remains Master of the House

By: Dec. 01, 2022
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Review: LES MISERABLES Stuns Once More at the Marcus Center
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Les Miserables is back at the Marcus Center in Milwaukee through December 4, 2022. An icon, a classic, an all-time favorite -- this is the show that made me fall in love with musicals. The epic tale by Victor Hugo is set in 19th-century France and tells the story of broken dreams, love, passion, sacrifice, and redemption.

In short, Jean Valjean is a fugitive with a heart of gold. Javert is a police inspector ever on the hunt to bring Valjean to justice. While evading the law, Valjean takes on a new identity and makes an impressive name for himself. He encounters the downtrodden Fantine, at whose deathbed he promises to care for her only child, Cosette. Years pass, Cosette grows up. She falls for a student, Marius. Poor Eponine loves Marius who only has eyes for Cosette. There's a student revolution, a disastrous death toll, and well, it's not called "miserable" for nothing.

But avid Les Mis fans stomach the heartache of the story for the beauty of music and text by Boublil & Schönberg. Fans can rest assured that this touring production, like the one before it, fully delivers. How could it not? It's the same stirring songs, the same heart-rending tragedy, the same characters theatergoers have loved and loved to hate for over 35 years and counting. We go to Les Mis to be transported, to marvel at singers and staging, and to have a good cry (just me?).

If you're new to Les Miserables, my advice is to pay attention to the little moments. Yes, there are beloved ballads like "On My Own" and "I Dreamed a Dream." There are rousing hymns like "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and the rollicking toe-tapper "Master of the House." But some of my favorite things about Les Mis are the marvelous places the music goes when you least expect it. Listen closely for inspired interludes, notes, and transitions.

The visual production on the whole is ever impressive. Like the previous tour that came to Milwaukee, painted projections fill the backdrop. I'm lukewarm on these and I miss the rotating stage -- but that's a small thing compared to the mammoth moveable sets, gorgeous costumes, and dramatic lighting that captures the actors in vignettes that resemble renaissance chiaroscuro paintings.

The real marvel of Les Miserables is, of course, the cast. What is beautiful music without singers who are beyond qualified to do it justice? This touring cast is universally stunning -- something one comes to expect from any Les Mis tour. How wonderful to report that many even exceeded expectations.

Nick Cartell's Jean Valjean is superb. He's been here before; Cartell is the same Valjean Milwaukee enjoyed during the last Les Mis tour. He puts genuine, tender love into every word and note of the Act Two favorite "Bring Him Home," earning an extended ovation. His take on this classic is a capital-"M" Moment. Hayden Tee's Javert is an immensely worthy foil, his vocals and passion particularly moving in the inspector's final moments on stage.

Matt Crowle breathes new life into the fan-favorite Thénardier. Agile and spry, Crowle injects humor in a way that feels fresh. Another icon, Fantine, is played beautifully by Haley Dortch. Her voice is pure and lovely, delivering an "I Dreamed a Dream" at once true to the source and gently infused with unique flavor.

Lastly, a shout out to the unrequited. Christine Heesun Hwang gives us a shining, yearning "On My Own" that sits nicely alongside greats like Lea Salonga. The object of her affection, Marius, is played by Gregory Lee Rodriguez. His voice gives shades of Michael Ball, but is special in its tone and beauty. I've always been a Marius girl, and therefore listen acutely to be moved and impressed. Rodriguez had me in tears during "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" -- that's how you know you've got a great one.

Following the resounding and emphatic standing ovation for this touring production of Les Miserables, it's wonderful to know that a show that so speaks to me also speaks to my fellow Milwaukeeans. Seen by 130 million people in 53 countries and 22 languages, Les Miserables stands the test of time and jukebox musical trends. Magnificent performances, dazzling sets and staging, soaring orchestrations -- these things are as timeless as the show's central message of the human experience: "Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.


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