BWW Review: LES MISERABLES National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center
Based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel of the same name, Les Misérables tells the story of an ex-convict who after serving nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, goes on a quest for redemption. When a kind bishop inspires him by a tremendous act of mercy, the ex-convict known as Jean Valjean breaks his parole as he decides to start his life anew. As time goes on, Valjean has relentlessly been pursued by a ruthless police inspector, hoping to bring him to justice. Though along the way, a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade during a revolutionary period in France.
After having originally premiered at the Palais des Sports in 1980, Les Misérables made its English-language debut at the Barbican Arts Centre in London on October 8th, 1985. While initial reviews at the time were negative, the production became an enormous hit that still continues to run in the West End to this day (making it the longest-running musical in the world). The musical then transferred to Broadway on March 12th, 1987, where it went on to win 8 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), and run for 6,680 performances after closing on May 18th, 2003. This current national touring production is a revamped staging that originally began in 2009 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the musical's London premiere. It then started touring the United States a year later, and thanks to the success of the 2012 Academy Award-winning film adaptation, came to Broadway in 2014, where it ran for two and a half years.
This revamped staging isn't radically different from the original, though there are still some key differences. There's no on stage turntable, and there's no black box setting. In place of the latter are more visual projections inspired by some of Victor Hugo's paintings that along with Matt Kinley's physical scenery make up the set. Though with all of that being said, the real power behind Les Misérables is its timeless story filled with unforgettable characters that are brought to life by an incredible troupe of actors. Not to mention that there are a number of breathtaking renditions of some of the musical's most iconic songs.
Nick Cartell gives a strong performance as Jean Valjean, the ex-convict who has one of the best character arcs ever written for any story. Josh Davis as Inspector Javert gives a performance that is threatening, yet at times, shows that character's empathy as he firmly believes in justice of the law, and has no room for mercy. Melissa Mitchell gives a soulful performance as Fantine, a broken spirited woman who would do anything she can to care for her daughter, Cosette. Joshua Grosso gives a charismatic performance as the student revolutionary Marius, who falls in love with Cosette, now all grown-up, taken care of by Jean Valjean, and charmingly portrayed by Jillian Butler. Talia Simone Robinson gives a heartfelt performance as Éponine, a street urchin who has romantic feelings for Marius, yet suffers from unrequited love. In a musical that in english is titled The Miserables, J. Anthony Crane & Allison Guinn provide some much needed comic relief as the Thénardiers, second-rate thieves who lead a gang of street thugs.
Directors Laurence Connor & James Powell successfully keep the show moving at a great pace, where audiences should not feel bored by the musical's near-three hour running time. There's also some stunning lighting designs courtesy of Paule Constable and some lovely costumes that are a mixture of original by Andreane Neofitou and new by Christine Rowland. Overall, Les Misérables is a magnificent musical with a beautiful score by Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil (with English translations of the lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer) that manages to be uplifting through dire circumstances. If you've seen Les Miz before, there's always a great excuse to see it again. But if you've never seen it before, now is the time to join the crusades.
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