By Stephanie Wilks
May 11, 2012
Les Misérables is the Coco Chanel of fashion. It’s the Model T Ford of classic cars. It’s the Brad Pitt of celebrities. As the longest running musical in the world, Les Miz encapsulates all that’s right with musical theatre. From its gripping plot, to the intricately woven character progressions, score, vocal casting, elaborate costumes, sets, and more, Les Miz is one of the all time bests on Broadway. And guess what? You can see it this weekend at The Aronoff Center.
After 19 years of imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread, ex-convict Jean Valjean, played by Peter Lockyer, is released from the chain gang only to find that the ticket-of-leave he must display condemns him as an outcast. In a glorious rendition of “At the End Of The Day,” we learn that 19th century French townspeople are tough and merciless. However, through a Bishop’s unexpected act of kindness, Valjean is compelled to pursue a life of virtue and to show others the unlikely compassion that was shown to him, which is earnestly conveyed in “What Have I Done.”
The complex, fast-paced, and emotional tale of Les Miz (adapted from the Victor Hugo novel) pivots around Jean Valjean. His life becomes continually intertwined with over a half dozen other characters who inject our stomachs with unnerving suspense until the final scene.
While the characters are parochial and financially impoverished, they’re rich in passion, providing the story with enough substance that the entire Broadway is sung. The man of the hour was tenor Lockyer (Jean Valjean), who swept us off our feet with “Bring Him Home.” Nadine Malouf played the difficult character of Éponine, managing to give her character fragility and heart, despite the fact that we initially want to dislike Éponine due to her immoral and criminal family. Nadine’s ardent mezzo-soprano solo “On My Own,” leaves us ashamed for judging her as a child and empathizing with her current situation.
Les Miz has won eight Tony’s and a Grammy for its music, which is particularly effective at building progressive suspense and swiftly guiding the emotions of the audience. The gloomy police chief Javert, for example, is cast as a deep baritone reflecting his rigid and pessimistic nature as a man who doesn’t believe any human can change for the better. Stoic Andrew Varela conveyed the “fatal flaw” of Javert’s Shakespearian-like character in “Stars,” without blemish, “God be my witness, I never shall yield, till we come face to face!”
Some of Hugo’s paintings are incorporated into the backdrops of the sets, helping to convey the melancholy, unjust, and “Dog Eat Dog,” tone of the socio-economical period. This is a new addition amongst a wide variety of changes by directors Lawrence O’Connor and James Powell for Broadway’s re-mastered 25th Anniversary tour. They’ve also included moving projections into two scenes giving us the impression that characters are actually walking through the streets of France, and later, through the sewers.
At the end of the show, I was in full-fledged tears. And I was left with two powerful thoughts: 1.) I’m really glad I don’t live in 19th century France; 2.) Everybody should raise a glass to the cast for being Masters of the House; 3.) Ok, I lied (so it’s three thoughts)… scoop up the last few tickets before it’s too late.
Les Misérables is playing now through May 13 at the Aronoff Center.
*Photo credits: Provided
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