BWW Review: Don't Wait One Day More to See LES MISERABLES at The National Theatre!
Soaring vocals, stunning costumes, weepy theatre goers: these are all things you expect at a production of LES MISERABLES. But a pace that leaves you reeling and energized? I didn't realize that was possible. The pacing, oh the pacing! This touring production of Cameron Mackintosh's production of Boublil and Schönberg's LES MISERABLES, directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, is fresh, immediate, and wildly entertaining.
The story follows former prisoner Jean Valjean who aspires to a life of virtue while he is continuously pursued by the indefatigable policeman Javert. Valjean comes to the aid of the destitute Fantine, raises her daughter Cosette, and finds himself amidst revolutionaries on the barricades in the streets of Paris. Victor Hugo's original novel Les Miserables is 1,900 pages long in the original French and the musical adaptation clocks in at 3 hours, so to say this synopsis is lacking would be an understatement. At the heart of this enduring musical are the unifying themes of love and redemption. This touring production at the National Theatre pushes those abstract concepts to their fullest theatrical realization.
Nick Cartell is a striking Jean Valjean. His transition from scrappy prisoner to repentant father is effective and believable. Cartell's "Bring Him Home" is technically perfect from a vocal perspective, and utterly transfixing. Javert, played on Dec. 21st by understudy Andrew Love, was greeted with prolonged and well deserved applause after every soliloquy. Love is an impressive baritone, and his rendition of "Stars" early on in the show easily earned him the title of crowd favorite.
This touring production of LES MISERABLES is unabashedly funny at times, and not just when the Thenardiers are involved. The love sick Marius, innocent Cosette, and love lorn Eponine provide moments of genuine humor and sweetness. Joshua Grosso as Marius made me understand, perhaps for the first time in my many LES MISERABLES viewings, the delight and tragedy of his "meet cute" with Cosette-played by the lovely Jillian Butler. Phoenix Best as Eponine gives one of the most effective renditions of "On My Own" I've ever seen. Also of note is Matt Shingledecker's Enjolras, J. Anthony Crane's Thenardier, and Allison Guinn's Madame Thenardier. This ensemble cast is truly impressive.
Inventive projections fill the National Theatre and masterfully bring depth to the small stage. Matt Kinley's set design-inspired by Victor Hugo's paintings-rise, fall, open up, and open in. Lighting design by Paule Constable, sound design by Mick Potter, and projections by Fifty-Nine Productions are similarly successful, and do a great service to the enduring story and the talents of the assembled cast.
Ten years ago my family dragged my little brother- an avid snowboarder with no interest in theatre- to a performance of LES MISERABLES in Boston. If you're not paying close attention to the plot you might think that the triumphant "One Day More" is some sort of finale, like he did. He pulled on his bright red coat and began the somber march out of the theatre only to be stopped in his tracks by my dad's quick words: "It's only halftime, buddy." I can't help but think that if he'd seen this lively, urgent production he may not have shed that single tear.
The stage no longer slowly turns, but this fresh staging will help LES MISERABLES continue to endure, and attract new fans as well as new talent. LES MISERABLES is running at the National Theatre from December 22nd- January 7th. Find tickets here: http://thenationaldc.org/.
Running Time: 3 hours including intermission
Photo Credit: The company of LES MISERABLES performs "One Day More. Photo by Matthew Murphy.