BWW Review: LES MISERABLES National Tour, DPAC
Sometimes, I worry when seeing LES MISÉRABLES yet another time that it won't ignite the same spark within me. And yet, without fail, this musical reminds me not just why I love theatre, but also of so many truths about humanity. It's a multi-layered story, difficult to simmer down to a concise summary.
Les Mis is about a man who was jailed for stealing to feed his nephew, who reinvents himself before dedicating his life to his adoptive child. It's the story of a police officer whose dedication to order and upholding the law blind him from seeing humanity for what it is and from the transformative power of mercy. It's about a group of revolutionaries, young men who are determined to take a stand against the corruption they see in their government even if the people of Paris are unwilling to stand with them. And it's about a young girl who despite her horrible childhood blooms into a woman full of love and hope.
While Les Mis wasn't my first musical I ever, it was the first one that I saw after I had fallen in love with theatre as a teen. I'll never forget the first time I saw it in London at the Queen's (now renamed the Sondheim) Theatre with legend Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean even though I've seen it nearly a dozen times since then.
My relationship with the show has changed over the years as I've grown out of the lovelorn teen who was obsessed with the character of Eponine to a young professional horrified by the injustices I see in my country, who can finally understand the passion that Enjolras and the other "Barricade Boys" have for bringing about change. I'm sure my relationship will change further still when I one day become a parent and can better understand Fantine and Jean Valjean's struggles.
For those who don't know, Les Mis is based on a novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, loosely centered around the 1832 Paris Uprising (no, it's NOT about the French Revolution). The musical, which has gorgeous sweeping music and poetic lyrics by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Herbert Kretzmer, opened in London in 1985 and has never closed despite changing theatres several times. It has played on Broadway, in Paris, in Dubai, and on multiple tours across the United States, the UK, and internationally.
This production of Les Mis returns to DPAC on its extended tour, which is based on the revival that opened on Broadway in 2014 and ran for two and a half years. Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, the tour uses much of the same technical and design work as the reimagined revival. The set design by Matt Kinley was inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo and does an impressive job of creating many different settings; there are a seemingly endless number of set pieces. Projections are used sparingly throughout, never stealing the attention from the actors themselves, but are very effectively utilized, especially in the second act.
The current tour cast boasts a large ensemble and many incredibly talented principles. Understudy Olivia Dei Cicchi played Fantine on Tuesday night and her beautiful voice made "I Dreamed a Dream" a highlight. Her girlish and youthful acting in Fantine's first scenes was very striking as it emphasized how far Fantine falls very quickly. Preston Truman Boyd's Javert is appropriately stern and imposing, a worthy match for Valjean.
Elon University graduate Matt Shingledecker plays Enjolras, the leader of the students. Michelle Dowdy stands out as Madame Thénardier, making the role totally her own and bringing much needed comic relief. Another actor who seems to steal every scene he's in is Parker Dzuba as the precocious Gavroche; he's easily the best Gavroche I've seen.
Joshua Grosso's Marius is charmingly unsuave as he attempts to woo Jillian Butler's Cosette, bringing humor to the role along with his lovely voice. Butler gives Cosette the personality that she is somewhat lacking in the musical, as opposed to the novel, along with her gorgeous vocals. Her Cosette is very sweet with both Marius and Valjean and she hits the impossibly high notes with ease and grace. Phoenix Best is a great Eponine and her "On My Own" is one of the highlights of the show as her voice is perfectly suited to it.
Jean Valjean is at the heart of Les Mis and Patrick Dunn is fantastic in the role which requires intense physical stamina from an actor as well as a crazy vocal range. Dunn nails the high notes and also does a great job with the physicality of Valjean from demonstrating his skittishness as a convict to the apparent toll his time at the barricade takes on his body. He really brings Valjean's anguish to the surface in "Who Am I" and provides the perfect combination of soaring vocals and heartfelt acting in "Bring Him Home."
Whether you've seen Les Mis before or not, this talented cast makes it worth seeing. It's a story that seems to have as much to say about our world today as it did when Victor Hugo wrote it in the 1860s. Combine that with a lush score and beloved songs like "One Day More" and it's no wonder that the show has been going strong for the past thirty-five years. Les Mis is at DPAC from March 10-15. (Don't forget to bring tissues.)
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy