BWW Review: Reimagined LES MISERABLES Triumphs with Sensational Voices at the Ohio Theatre
BWW Review: Reimagined LES MISERABLES Triumphs at the Ohio Theatre
Arguably the greatest musical of all time, Les Miserables strikes every possible chord with its powerful message of love, rebellion, sacrifice, redemption and inspiration. A brilliant musical masterpiece oozing with a lush, rich score, Les Miserables is a timeless testament to the ultimate survival of the human spirit.
Set in early 19th-century France, the story centers around Jean Valjean and his quest for redemption after serving nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread to save his sister's starving son and her family. Valjean later breaks free from his parole while ruthless police inspector, Javert, makes it his mission to hunt him down. Assuming a new identity, Valjean meets a dying Fantine and vows to protect and care for her young daughter Cosette until his death. Later, Valjean gets caught up in the French Revolution where a barricade is formed in an attempt to overthrow the government. In the midst of political turbulence, a young, innocent love blossoms while an impossible yet unrelenting love tragically dies.
I've had the pleasure of experiencing a wide variety of versions -- from Broadway, to National Tours, to college, and various local productions. This revamped US Tour under the direction of Laurence Connor and James Powell assembles together some of the finest vocal talent I've ever heard on one stage. But this production can't survive on voices alone. Here, although a nearly 3-hour show, the pace is at times excessively rushed which unfortunately results in a sterile disconnect with some of the characters.
Nick Cartell is a solid Jean Valjean. With soaring lyrics and tragic pleas, Cartell's flawless vocal maturity makes up for what he lacks as a younger version of the typical 24601. His antagonist, Josh Davis, also does a fine job in the role of Javert, who finds himself tormented between a relentless vengeance and his own imprisoned world. While masterful in their individual roles, together they seem more robotic in their pursuit.
Jillian Butler has a delicate, angelic voice and portrays a lovely Cosette who falls in love with the handsome young suitor, Marius. Her duo with Joshua Grosso, "Heart Full of Love," is skillfully ethereal and intoxicating. Their chemistry together is enchanting and beautifully portrayed.
Joshua Grosso emerges as the dignified scholar Marius who leads the revolution and quickly learns to mature in a world full of devastation. He sings a newly staged "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables" with a stoic conviction and strength that resonates to your very core.
Brett Stoelker possesses powerful vocals as Enjolras who is unwavering in his commitment to the character and offers a dynamic performance.
Phoenix Best as Eponine is an absolute powerhouse performer. Trapped in her own isolation and tormented by unrequited love, she lets every ounce of emotion rip through her impoverished soul in a rapturous version of "On My Own."
With much needed comic relief, Allison Guinn and Jimmy Smagula give a deliciously raunchy performance as Madame Thenardier and Thenardier. Guinn, however, is the clear standout of the pair, ensuing much more laughter than her counterpart.
The rest of the cast give fine performances in their respective roles.
New staging incorporates paintings inspired by Victor Hugo with creative projections by Fifty-Nine Productions. Lighting by Paule Constable and set and image design by Matt Kinley evoke a sense of despair and destitution, consistent with the time period of 19th Century France.
The impeccable 14-piece orchestra led by Brian Eads gives homage to Claude-Michel Schonberg's lush, symphonic score and sets the tone for this hauntingly brilliant musical.
One of the most celebrated productions in theatrical history, Les Miserables is a masterful exaltation of a brilliant score and transcendent storytelling. While at times performances are cursory and detached, you cannot deny the sensational vocal genius that embodies this spectacular musical achievement.
LES MISERABLES is currently playing at the Ohio Theatre through November 24, 2019. Tickets can be purchased from ticketmaster.com, by calling CAPA Ticket Center at 614-469-0939 or Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000, or by visiting the CAPA Ticket Center at the Ohio Theatre (39 E. State Street) or any Ticketmaster outlet.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy