Close on the heels of the Broadway Across Canada and Cameron Mackintosh production of The Phantom of the Opera comes another collaboration between the two in the form of the beloved Les Miserables. This version of the Victor Hugo musical is fresh off a tune up by Mackintosh and a 2 1/2 year run on Broadway. Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, it is a leaner, meaner version of the fifth longest running Broadway musical. This includes some changes in regards to staging, sets and orchestrations. Some out there might wonder why you would tinker with something that was so successful, but fear not as all the changes add rather than detract.
As far as story goes it is set primarily during the beginnings of the French Revolution and follows Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell) through much of his adult life. As a younger man he was sentenced to 19 years of hard labour after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s young son. After his release, Jean realizes that to make a fair living he is going to have to break the conditions of his parole. Success comes his way as he becomes mayor of his town and the owner of a factory. Always looking over his shoulder for the relentless Inspector Javert (Josh Davis), who is relentlessly chasing the man who broke parole.
Within Valjean’s factory works a young woman, Fantine (Melissa Mitchell), who is desperately working to feed her young daughter. On her deathbed, Fantine makes Valjean promise to take care of Cosette, which he does. As Cosette (Jillian Butler) grows up behind the gates of Valjean’s mansion, she meets Marius (Joshua Grosso). Marius, who is the love of Eponine (Danielle J. Summons), falls in love at first sight. All is going to be disrupted by the outbreak of the rebellion by the people.
Musicals are made or broken by the calibre of their music. Makes sense, no? There is plenty of memorable numbers here. Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer (adapted from the original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel). Fans of musicals are bound to be familiar with “I Dreamed a Dream”, “Bring Him Home”, “Stars”, “On My Own”, and “One Day More”. All are chock full of emotion bound to melt even the toughest of hearts.
The updates on the staging and sets are all note perfect. None detract or distract. Rather they add something that will thrill those who might have seen the production many times before. You get projected images (done by Fifty-Nine Prods.) which function as the sky or landscapes. Many of which were inspired by Hugo’s paintings. The sound and lights have also been updated. None take your attention away from the story or music meaning they only add to the complete package.
When you go to see Les Mis, you know you are in for the long haul. It is 2 hours and 55 minutes (including an 18 minute intermission) long. Most of it is heavy as well with the only comedy being supplied by the crazy husband-wife duo of Thenardier (J Anthony Crane) and his wife, Mme. Thenardier (Allison Guinn). You might think that would emotionally exhaust you and yet it doesn’t. That illustrates the quality involved here.
Sometimes where I’ve been to a theatre production at Place des Arts the sound has been an issue. Not so here. The voices and orchestra never sounded muffled. This allowed the poignant songs to really get to you. Nick Cartell as Valjean really seized his moments in the spotlight. Using his powerful voice he left plenty a wet eye in his wake while plowing through “Bring Him Home”. Other high points include Josh Davis’s solo moment “Stars” and Melissa Mitchell’s touching “I Dreamed a Dream”. As far as pure enjoyment goes, whenever J Anthony Crane and Allison Guinn were onstage it was a guaranteed great time.
Though this is a tale from the 18th century it did seem rather timely. The people rising up against the government (please pay attention people of the United States) with plenty of heroic moments required. Revolution does not seem like such an odd option. Human rights, unrequited love, heroism, moral dilemmas, and civil unrest. Sounds like a great night at the theatre, no?