BWW Review: LES MISERABLES at Orpheum Theatre is Too Beautiful to Miss
If you were to ask theatre goers to name their favorite musical of all time, I would wager many would say LES MISERABLES. Based on Victor Hugo's classic French novel of 1862, the musical adaptation by Claude Michel-Schonberg (music), Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel (original French lyrics and book), and Herbert Kretzmer (English lyrics) has thrilled audiences for thirty-five years. It has captured a plethora of awards in the West End, Broadway, and Toronto. The 2014 Broadway revival was nominated for a Tony Award, but did not win; however, the Australian revival did pick up additional awards. Early critics dismissed this show as "lurid Victorian lavishness," but audiences disagreed, making it the world's longest running musical of all time and 5th longest-running Broadway show. What makes this such a favorite?
This sung-through musical set in Paris during the years leading up to the June Rebellion does a respectable job tackling Hugo's voluminous work (more than 2700 pages). But even with a nearly three hour run time, details are missing where you are made to assume. The audience is largely willing to overlook these gaps because the story is so compelling--it's filled with sacrifice, vengeance, forgiveness, redemption, and love. There is also crowd pleasing gratuitous humor contributed by the outrageous Thenardiers, played by Jimmy Smagula and Michelle Dowdy.
Jean Valjean, prisoner number 24601, is released from 19 years of hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. Prison guard Javert ensures Valjean will have a difficult time obtaining a decent job by giving him a work paper that identifies him as an ex-con. Valjean is taken in by a benevolent bishop and repays him by stealing his silver. To his surprise, the bishop defends Valjean and gives him silver candlesticks in addition to his stolen loot. Along with the candlesticks, the bishop gives Valjean encouragement to make his life count. He does. He becomes a wealthy factory owner and mayor. As such he meets dying single mother Fantine who is driven out of the factory and into prostitution. Valjean promises to looks after her young daughter Cosette who is being "cared for" by the shifty innkeepers, the Thenardiers.
The story continues years later with a love triangle involving Cosette, the student Marius, and Eponine, the daughter of the Thenardiers. New love. Conflict. Heartbreak. The June rebellion breaks out. People die. People are saved. People mourn.
Laurence Connor and James Powell do a commendable job presenting this passionate production. Brian Eads as Musical Director brings out chillingly beautiful duets and ensemble pieces. Soloists are noticeably trained with incredibly fine voices, down to the last ensemble member. Regrettably, there is a lack of emotion. Songs are sung with technical beauty, but without sorrow. Choice notes are held seconds too long. Gorgeous melodies give way to theatrical recitations.
Those who shine most brightly are Jillian Butler as Cosette who exudes an innocence and a delicate pitch-perfect soprano that oozes honey. Joshua Grosso inserts a playfulness into his interpretation of Marius. On his serious side, he brings me closest to tears in my favorite songs, A Little Fall or Rain (with Phoenix Best) and Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, both mourning the passing of friends. Preston Truman Boyd presents Javert effortlessly with solid vocals and no hint of overplaying his part. His confrontation with Valjean (Patrick Dunn) at Fantine's bedside is the most fully charged number in the show. Dunn's impressive vocal range and the depth of his performance develops throughout the show from an overly passionate demonstration of anger in Soliloquy to tender fatherly concern for Cosette and Marius.
I did not sense the anguish in either the bittersweet I Dreamed a Dream (Mary Kate Moore) or On My Own (Phoenix Best). Maybe I just can't shake the memory of Ruthie Henshall's or Lea Salonga's raw emotion. The audience disagreed with me by responding with roaring approval.
I give roaring approval to both Matt Kinley's set design (associate set designers David Harris and Christine Peters) and Paule Constable's lighting design (associate lighting designer Richard Pacholski.) Wow! Just beautiful. The effect is like gazing at vintage paintings... No wonder, since they were inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. Then -add in the amazing projections of sewers and soaring city and sky scapes by Fifty-Nine Productions, or an apocalyptic barricade, and the visual effects are stunning. One Day More is particularly captivating with the shadowing behind the mob. This is probably one of the most beautiful presentations I've seen.
LES MISERABLES: The miserable ones. The wretched. The poor victims and the dispossessed. This is a dark story with a silver lining. "To love another person is to see the face of God." There is much love in this story. There is much to love about this production. It will continue to enthrall audiences for years to come.
It's too beautiful to miss.
The show runs January 14-19. Saturdays and Sundays have a matinee in addition to the evening performances. Tickets are available at TicketOmaha.com or by calling the box office at 402-345-0606.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy