BWW Review: LES MISERABLES Dazzles at The Fabulous Fox
Anyone familiar with the Tony-Award-winning musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables knows it is a grand indulgence for the eyes, ears, and mind. The Cameron Mackintosh and Networks touring production (with new staging and reimagined scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo!) does not disappoint.
Les Mis' is the epic tale of Jean Valjean, set in early 19th-century France. Valjean has served nineteen years in jail after having stolen a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving child. Shortly after his release, he pilfers silver from a bishop who has taken him in. Though caught, he is granted mercy by the generous bishop, who insists the silver was a gift. This enables Valjean to start anew, although he is hunted relentlessly for the rest of his life by a fixated police inspector and antagonist, Javert.
Eight years later, Valjean owns a factory where he learns that one of his workers, Fantine, is harassed by the foreman and colleagues. Fantine, a single woman, has a secret daughter Cosette, who is in the care of an innkeeper, Thénardier, and his wife. After Valjean insists the foreman resolve the harassment, the foreman fires Fantine, forcing her to turn to prostitution so that she can continue caring for Cosette, who the Thénardiers have sworn is ill and for whom they now require a larger stipend. Soon, Fantine ends up on her deathbed, asking Valjean to find and care for Cosette.
In the post-Revolution years that follow, Valjean's life as Cosette's guardian has taken on new meaning. Simultaneously, there is much political unrest. Uprisings against the government by student idealists abound. One of these idealists, Marius, who is friends with the Thénardiers' daughter Eponene, falls in love with Cosette, and Cosette with him. Eponene, who remembers Cosette from their childhood, assists Marius in finding her, even though Eponene herself is in love with Marius. The idealists build a barricade and fight against an army that warns them to surrender or die, and when Valjean shows up in search of Marius, he encounters Javert, whose life mission continues to be to punishing Valjean for his past.
The idealists give Valjean the opportunity to kill Javert, but Javert shows mercy and lets him go. Upon rescuing Marius from the bloody uprising, Valjean runs into Javert once more, but this time Javert, recognizing the clemency Valjean has bestowed upon him, commits suicide. Cosette and Marius are married, and then Valjean reveals all the secrets he has been hiding about his past before he dies as an old man, joining with all the spirits of those who have gone before him.
As you see, Les Misérables isn't a jaunty little feel-good story. It is complex and political and multi-layered - definitely a thinking person's musical. It is also a sung-through musical, so there is no dialogue to help advance the narrative, but unlike many musicals where audiences must strain and listen closely to understand many of the lyrics, this entire cast is to be commended for their exceptional enunciation. The clarity with which they fill The Fox is bold, bright, and impressive, whether we are hearing one voice or the entire company. Notable performances come during "At The End of the Day" where the unemployed factory workers' voices fill the entire space, Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream," with Mary Kate Moore hitting those sumptuous low notes with vigor, "Lovely Ladies," which is a pleasingly delightful toe-tapper in spite of its subject matter. Act 2 kicks off with Paige Smallwood's superb execution of Eponine's "On My Own," after which the patron next to me exclaimed aloud, "Wow!" Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean and Josh Davis as Javert were equally strong with regard to both acting and singing. Allison Guinn and J. Anthony Crane as the Thénardiers were delightful and hilarious. Again, this entire cast is cohesive and notably well-trained.
The lighting design by Paule Constable is especially interesting and highly theatrical in this production. These are dark times, and they are reflected as such utilizing incredible backlighting and subdued spots on an otherwise murky stage. The lighting and the sound design by Mick Potter work seamlessly together, particularly during the wonderfully choreographed fight scenes, to evoke gasps and jumps from the audience. Impressive too are the projections by Fifty-Nine Productions, which lend considerable depth and almost a fourth dimension to Matt Kinley's already extraordinary set design, which is most outstanding for Javert's suicide. In short, the tech on this show is pretty incredible.
Even if you've seen it before, this production of Les Misérables is one to see. It is a beautiful and heart-wrenching rendition of this phenomenal piece of work. It runs at The Fox Theatre through December 16. Click here for more information and tickets.