BWW Review: LES MISÉRABLES at Leon Performing Arts

BWW Review: LES MISERABLES  at Leon Performing Arts

Leon Performing Arts' Les Miserables astounds

Leon Performing Arts' Les Miserables astounds

The program for the Leon Performing Arts production of Les Miserables (School Edition) stipulates "performed entirely by students," but the "student" part becomes an afterthought as the show proceeds. These performers brought a caliber of professionalism and expertise to the production that belies their years.

Les Miserables is a staple in the arts world -- it has been showing continuously in London since October 1985 and is the second longest-running musical in the world -- and it is returning to the Leon Performing Arts stage (it showed at Leon Performing Arts in 2012).

The show follows the path of Jean Valjean, who seeks a different path after spending 19 years doing hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread. We meet him in 1815, when a priest's intercession keeps Valjean from being sent back to prison for stealing again. Throughout the show's progression, he is pursued by Inspector Javert, who is determined to punish Valjean. Valjean takes action at several points in his life to pay back the grace he was shown, notably when he cares for young Cosette. The situation comes to a head when Paris is beset by civil unrest in 1832. There's a love story in here too, but if you haven't seen the show, you'll have to process all that as an audience member.

The audience of this production is whisked into 1800s France, into an environment of people never destined to leave their class (with the exception of people like Valjean, who takes an unlikely trajectory). The set transforms into many things over the course of the show: a prison work field, a village, an inn, a sewer, a church. The full auditorium is used as villagers (and other cast members, including a chain gang at a different point) enter down the two aisles, their voices raised in unison as they assemble for the next development.

Relationships are a key mover of the story in this production of Les Miserables. Javert and Valjean are destined to be at odds for decades. Their enmity for each other is tangible; the songs that highlight their tense relationship are among the most powerful in the show.

For all the overt hostility between Javert and Valjean, the development of tender relationships: Valjean and Cosette, for example provide a nuanced counterpoint.

Comedy also engages the audience as the innkeepers make their debut. How can people so mean-spirited be so funny? Maybe their humor is a product of their dark outlook on life. Either way, the bawdy inn, darkhearted as it is, is also a source of much mirth.

Since a significant portion of Les Miserables centers around a battle, the audience's affinity for the characters matters. The audience doesn't want these scrappy fighters, underdogs as they are, to lose. Enter Gavroche, the youngest of the fighters by a good bit, but a contributor nonetheless. The audience loved Gavroche.

Special attention has been given to the costuming -- evoking the 1800s in a muted palette. The poorer segments of society are appropriately ragged while the wealthier members are more finely attired.

Vocally, these performers were, for the most part, astounding. A clear soprano from the actress playing Cosette, commanding performances from the actors playing Javert and Valjean, a remarkable performance from Eponine. It's almost impossible to rank them; all excelled at their roles.

The show features a live orchestra and was directed by Naomi Rose-Mock.

The official Les Miserables website says the show has been "seen by 70,000,000 people in 44 countries and 22 languages.

The number of audience members for the Leon Performing Arts version won't reach 70,000,000, but for those who do see it, they are likely to be deeply moved.

For more information, please visit the Leon Performing Arts website.

Photo Credit: Abby Kinch Photography

BWW Review: LES MISERABLES  at Leon Performing Arts

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From This Author Paula Kiger

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