Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Monday, January 23, 2012

Theater Review: Les Miserables Revival Production

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 01:45


Last week I was able to experience an absolutely incredible piece of musical theater. One of my all-time favorite shows to ever grace the stages of Broadway, Les Miserables made its way to the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center in Orlando. Thankfully, I am a season ticket holder because EVERY show scheduled on its stop in Orlando sold-out! Now, mind you, I’ve seen this show probably close to 6-7 times in my life. I know every song by heart and I can visualize every nuance of every scene play-by-play. But, of all the times I’ve seen the show, I’ve never had the opportunity to see it like this! Les Miz is now 25 years old! And the production that played for years at the Broadway Theater in New York is long closed and its tour came to an end several years ago as well. But in 2006, the show’s producer, Cameron Mackintosh decided it was time to bring Les Miz back and the show was completely revamped for its revival run at the Broadhurst Theater. The show ran for two years in its renewed carnation and began preparation for its touring production shortly after it closed in January of 2008.

And in this production, the staging adds so much to the show! The famed revolving stage is gone. In its place, however, are elaborate and well-detailed sets that add a tremendous amount to the story, characters, and depiction of a France in upheaval and revolution. The sets were absolutely gorgeous and I was astonished at their scale and how wonderfully they were used to transition from scene-to-scene. While no one particular set was better than any other, the quality of the sets really stood out to me in the beginning of the show in the factory scene where Fontine is “outed” as an unwed mother and cast out of her job. The set looks like a real working factory and the workers are arranged to appear as if they truly are at work in such a sweatshop. And the acting and singing from this group of performers are outstanding! Jean Valjean is wonderfully played by Broadway veteran J. Mark McVey, who played Valjean in the Broadway production 2,900 times! His voice and ability to melodically display his dynamic range was breathtaking. He performed the role, one of the most difficult to play, with the utmost talent and beyond. And Andrew Varela’s Javert was menacing yet beautiful at just the right times (eg. “Stars” and “Soliloquy”). Perhaps the actor who really stole the show, however, was Max Quinlan, who played the role of Marius. His voice was powerful yet youthfully aloof at just the right times (“In My Life,” and “A Heart Full of Love” are both great standout moments for the actor). I believe he played this role better than any other I’ve ever seen do so. His coupling with Jenny Latimer’s Cossette was stunningly perfect.

The roles of Fantine (Betsy Morgan) and Eponine (Chasten Harmon) were also played quite well; the actors had just the right mix of operatic and non-operatic vocal ability that they shone bright during numbers such as “I Dreamed a Dream” and “On My Own.” And the ensemble, including the children cast in the show (Kylie McVey–Little Cossette and Young Eponine; Anthony Pierini–Garoche), brought an unparalleled dedication to their roles that made you forget they were the background of the story. The only minor complaint I have was with the actors who played the comedic roles of Madame Thenadier and her husband (Shawna Hamic and Richard Vida–both of whom played the roles on Broadway). These characters require voices that are giddy and require comedic inflection and tone. While these two certainly provided the much-needed comedic relief in a show that desperately needs some, I’ve seen others perform these roles much better. But this was a very minor criticism of this production.

The revival of this show did something I have not seen before; it topped its predecessor. Ragtime had a fantastic revival about 2 years ago that was much more minimalistic compared to its behemoth original production at the then Ford Center for the Performing Arts (now the Foxwoods Theater, home to my now all-time favorite show Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark). Both were fantastic in their own unique ways; but the original certainly had much more of an opulent feel of grandiosity that the smaller revival couldn’t compete with. Here, with Les Miz, I think we have the opposite. The minimalistic qualities of the original production and its revolving stage and dark bare sets are augmented tremendously, making this production almost superior to the original. Les Miserables will always be known and respected as one of the most beloved musicals of all-time. That distinction is well-deserved even though newer shows like Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, Titanic, and even (now older) Miss Saigon far surpassed it in-terms of the “Wow!” factor! In this new production, however, that “Wow!” factor has been amplified, making this production one that is surely not-to-be-missed. Check out lesmis.com to see the tour schedule and see a preview for the new revival production of Les Miserables below:

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