BWW Review: LES MISERABLES Tour at the Orpheum
"One Day More" runs through my head over and over the day after seeing a new staging of LES MISÉRABLES at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre. Not the worst fate.
LES MISÉRABLES has arguably one of the best soundtracks ever, though every angst-filled, epic song are so stuck in my memory file that many, many years after my last viewing on stage, I was reminded right away that this familiar show was one of the first Broadway productions that I got to know and I still love the music. All in all, the production is well done, the cast well sung and additions like inclusion of Victor Hugo's artwork in the scenic design were welcome. Modern touches like this, using the advanced projection technology in this way, advanced the piece into the current theatrical day. Which is what I assume the goal in this "re-imagined staging." Other modern changes, like what felt like near-constant references and jokes about the male anatomy, were not so welcome.
Once or twice, I would dismiss that stuff as I do with most any entertainment that needlessly inserts them. This show took it to a whole new level of distraction. The audience laughed or snickered out loud the first couple times a "dick joke" happened, then every other time (I lost count) they giggled less as cast members used objects and made gestures imitating an erection as it got uncomfortable and absolutely took attention off the moment. Upstaging is usually frowned upon and while I've seen this sort of sophomoric behavior in a few amateur shows, I have never seen it in a professional show. I wondered if it was just me and mulled it over for a day or so. Maybe I'm just oversensitive? Hmmm, I don't think so -- I'm not a prude and it just felt excessive. No, it was over the top; and I was relieved when my thoughts were confirmed by the Facebook hive. A few theatre friends hashed this out in a post that made me feel it was OK to include here. It's probably not reason enough to skip the show, mind you, but if you're bringing young children to the show, or just don't enjoy this sort of humor, you can take note and do what you will with it.
That aside, the technical production, from the aforementioned set by Matt Kinley to the costumes by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland, to the sound design, was fabulous. The sound engineer, Mick Potter, was on his game. This was perhaps the best sound engineering of a large-scale production I've witnessed, and I see a lot of shows. There was never a moment I could not hear a line of song because an orchestration element overpowered it -- the balance was perfect -- and this is not the norm.
As noted in press materials, this show has been seen by more than 70 million people in 44 countries around the world. No one needs me to reiterate the storyline here. So I'll give a few more thoughts on the performances, which were quite good overall with a few misses.
Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean is on stage the most and carries the weight of the show on his shoulders, and while he starts out a bit angsty in "Soliloquy," by the time he does "Bring Him Home" in Act II, he has won me over with his vocals.
My other favorite for vocals and overall performance was Joshua Grosso (Marius). He was a beautiful singer and often this character is too syrupy sweet in his instant infatuation of Cossette, but Grosso was hitting all the right notes in his acting, as well. Jillian Butler's Cossette, too, was just right. One of my Facebook friends also confirmed this, saying it appeared Cossette was actually smitten with him. Ah, young love!
The other ingenue, Eponine, played by Paige Smallwood, however, didn't work for me. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but she just didn't win me over or make me feel like she was really hurting about her unrequited love for Marius. Vocally, "On My Own," the song that has always been my favorite, felt whiny instead of vulnerable. Her mother, Fantine (Mary Kate Moore), similarly lacked emotional connection for me throughout Act I.
Josh Davis' Javert was effectively sung but the makeup was a bit cartoonish; I kept thinking of the evil boss in The Simpsons. The young man with the flowing blond locks (Matt Shingledecker) who lead the revolution gang may have been seen on a cover of a romance novel or two -- another distraction from otherwise good performances. This is a huge cast (apparently 101 cast and crew members put on this show) so I'll just say the ensemble was very capable and the children were very good. The soaring ensemble numbers were the money moments you'd expect.
The epic story and staging of this show is hard to condense into the three hours (yes, three) but all in all it felt like it moved well enough. The real star of this show is the music, and judging from the ear worms I had, the immediate standing ovation from an adoring house and the knock-out orchestra and sound design, that's reason enough to get over to the Hennepin Theatre Trust's site to see if there are any seats available before LES MISÉRABLES closes Dec. 30.
More information: Tickets $39-$199, available at https://hennepintheatretrust.org/events/les-miserables-broadway-tickets-orpheum-theatre-minneapolis-mn-2018/
Photos: By Matthew Murphy, courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Main image: The cast of LES MISÉRABLES performs "One Day More."
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy