BWW Review: LES MISERABLES at the Paramount Theater is All That and A Bag of Chips
Masterpiece, classic, epic, monumental - it's hard to find a word that encapsulates this production of Les Miserables. It is a timeless story of love, courage, and redemption that reminds us of what it means to be human. With moments of pageantry and beautiful stillness, the audience is drawn into another world and time. Yet through it all, the cast keeps you close, in the very palms on their hands devouring every word and syllable like starving children. Les Miz is everything you want in a show. It is all that and a bag of chips.
The world that is created on stage is utterly mesmerizing, and it begins with the fantastic scenic design by Matt Kinley. Original art work by Victor Hugo is paired with advanced projection technology to create a mood that is accented and underscored by every word of the show. The masterpiece of his intricate moving pieces and projected images appear and melt as if by magic. The seamless nature of the many transitions is almost unbelievable. Sometimes it happened so quickly, you found yourself wondering if you really just saw a ship or a tavern or if you imagined it. Transitions are hard, and can be jarring. This show has more transitions that most yet brings a fluidity that is rarely seen. The stage crew for this show should write a book because this is how is should be done. I only wish that I had a rewind button as sometimes I wanted to see how they did it again and again.
Les Miz has so many dream roles, each distinctive with merits and challenges of its own. Some people strike you immediately as perfectly suited for a role and that was the case with Josh Davis. His physical demeanor was so unmistakably Javert, but it was the subtle nuance of his performance that put it over the top for me. His heartbreaking rendition of "Soliloquy" made Javert real and not just a one-dimensional bad guy. Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean had to win me over, but that's exactly what he did. "Bring Him Home" was one of the most perfect moments of the show. His tenderness and complete command of the song held the audience in rapture. Jillian Butler (Cosette) and Joshua Grosso (Marius) gave my absolutely favorite performance of "A Heart Full of Love." They brought a freshness, and a playfulness with a touch of young love awkwardness to this scene that a show this heavy truly needs. Allison Guinn (Madame Thenardier) also provided some comic relief and used the pause to her advantage. The members of the ensemble truly enriched the show. Whether as ladies of the night, factory girls, or student rebels, their time on stage was engaging and full of wonderful side stories. You could watch anyone, anytime and be entranced.
The staging and choices made throughout the show were simply spectacular. The one and only place I felt let down was in "A Little Fall of Rain." With all the marvelous technical exploits of the show, they chose not to do rain, neither real water or projected rain or any visual representation of rain. Maybe it was a bridge too far for an already very complicated show, but I missed the rain, and I think the scene felt flat. Although Emily Bautista (Eponine) and Grosso (Marius) sing it beautifully, it lacked the emotion of the tragic end that I wanted. Somehow Eponine had the strength to reach up and kiss Marius in her final moments, but it seemed out of place - too much energy for a dying woman slipping away in his arms. Despite this one misstep, the rest of Bautista's performance was on point bringing life, and conflict, and anguish to her character.
One last shout out to the orchestra - they were flawless. The score of Les Miz is its very life. They played with a sound much bigger and fuller than their fourteen members. I especially enjoyed the full rich tones provided by Jack Noble on bass trombone and tuba, and the melodic lines of Kathly Halvarsan on oboe. From my seat in the loge, I also enjoyed watching the orchestra in the pit where clarinet player Peter Scuderi seemed to have as much fun as anyone in the audience.
Les Miserables remains the 5th longest-running Broadway production of all time, and I don't think it will end any time soon.
Les Miserables in playing at the Paramount Theater through June 17th. For tix or more information, visit www.stgpresents.org.