BWW Review: Vive LES MISERABLES! - Nick Cartell Brings It Home!
The national tour of LES MISÉRABLES has come roaring like a cannonade into Gammage Memorial Auditorium ~ nothing less than an epic account of Jean Valjean's journey to redemption interlaced with a love-at-first-sight romance caught in the fury and tumult of the ill-fated 1832 June rebellion in Paris.
This 25th anniversary production, a bold reimagining of the international blockbuster, is musical theatre on steroids, packing the whole shebang of entertainment value into an emotionally uplifting and rapid-fire two hours and fifty minutes. We would expect nothing less from impresario Cameron Mackintosh, nor should we be surprised by the enduring power of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's celestial music to elevate our pulses and Herbert Kretzmer's evocative lyrics to move our souls.
On its own merits (no indulging here in the predictable urge to compare it with prior stagings or even the 2012 film), the current production distinguishes itself with a full panoply of breathtaking theatrical effects. Matt Kinley's massive sets are stunning, and, together with projected images of a dark and deep French landscape, recreate the mood and tones of the times. Paule Constable imbues each scene with subtle plays of dramatic lighting. The orchestra, under the baton of Brian Eads, is magnificent, ever in perfect balance with the singing.
Then, there is the formidable cast, featuring local-boy-made-good Nick Cartell, whose portrayal of the beleaguered Valjean is sublime (with a rendition of Bring Him Home that is solid gold), and the sterling performances of Josh Davis (tremendous as the steely and relentless Inspector Javert), Mary Kate Moore (Fantine), Emily Bautista (Éponine), Jillian Butler (Cosette), and Robert Ariza (Marius). These are performances to be savored, rich and powerful in expression and range.
LES MIS is a wholesome, brilliantly crafted, and finely integrated work, true in form and focus to Victor Hugo's construction of his timeless classic: "The book which the reader has before him at this moment is, from one end to the other, in its entirety and details ... a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life; from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God. The starting point: matter, destination: the soul. The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end."
It might be well to recall, as we are engrossed in the grandeur of the performances, that the story and the progress to which Hugo speaks is guided by a moral compass that is just as relevant today as when he expressed it in his prologue: "So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age-the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night-are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless."
LES MISÉRABLES runs through May 20th at ASU Gammage in Tempe, AZ, after which it moves on to San Diego's Civic Theatre.
Photo credit to Matthew Murphy