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Les Miz Looms Large

May 11, 2011

Despite what Broadway may want you to believe, some musicals bear more repeated viewings than others. (While others may be lucky if you see them once.) Les Misérables, which opened Tuesday at Madison’s Overture Hall, falls squarely into the former category. If fact, after seeing the new version—our third evening spent with Victor Hugo’s The Miserable Ones—we like it even better than before.

TLes Miserablehe 25th anniversary production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s musical about poverty in post-revolutionary France built its pre-show publicity on new sets, including backdrops based on some of Hugo’s original paintings. The show delivers on its promise. The formerly sparse traveling productions have been replaced by richly detailed, albeit darkly lit sets that are as shabby and rundown as the costumes of its beggar characters.

Gone is the turntable on which the protesting students march, but the cast under Lawrence Connor’s direction cleverly handles the challenge. Moving back-projections help create a sense of motion, and are especially effective when Jean Valjean (a powerful portrayal by baritone Ron Sharpe) carries the injured Marius (tenor Justin Scott Brown) through the sewers of Paris. The most striking effect occurs when the relentless Javert (baritone Andrew Varela) plunges to his death in the River Seine, executing what used to be called a “Hitchcock fall” through very effective stagecraft.

The three-hour show’s pacing is as relentless as Hugo’s narrative about Javert’s pursuit of Valjean, a former convict who served 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, but who is redeemed through the kindness of a priest. Valjean lives his life in delivery of his promise to the priest, saving other lives along the way and showing even Javert kindness that causes the police inspector to experience his own painful redemption.

The new production’s cast is energetic and their voices strong. Sorpano Julie Benko’s Cosette reaches comfortably into the coloratura range. As Éponine, mezzo-soprano Chasten Harmon elicits empathy and is in fine voice as the woman left unloved. As innkeeper Thénardier and his shrewish wife, John Rapson and Shawna Hamic are suitably odious and delightfully funny.

Les Miz has always been something of a phenomena, blending serious themes deftly handled with memorable music and heartfelt characterization that have touched millions of audience members worldwide. The show also took musical theater to new heights, both technically and emotionally, and was a pioneer of progress in its day. Those same elements are hard at work in the current production, and its plain to see that the story of redemption, hope and human kindness knows no time period, but is something that speaks to us all.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. iamdivagirl permalink
    May 12, 2011 2:42 pm

    Just to clarify… Thenardier was played by John Rapson and his wife Mme Thenardier was Shawna M. Hamic.

    • Mike and Jean permalink*
      May 12, 2011 11:37 pm

      Thanks, Divagirl. That’s already been clarified and corrected. (See above.)

      You must be in the show. Great job, whoever you are.

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