Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a performance of the newest national tour for Les Misérables. Buying these tickets was a treat for myself, both to take advantage of the fact that one of my favorite musicals was coming to town and to reward myself for finding employment. When I walked into the theatre with my dad, I was bubbling with excitement, certain that this production would be well worth the rather pricey sum I paid for our seats.
This “restaged” version of Les Mis isn’t new to the States. It was first brought to our shores from the UK, where Cameron Mackintosh had put together a shiny new take on the classic musical in order to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary. The tour was met with mixed reception from fans; some praised the new staging and welcomed something different from the “same old, same old” that exists in London, while others grew disgusted at a “butchered” version of their favorite show that sucked out all the special life from the original production. Regardless, the tour sold well in the US, and in 2014, a Broadway revival opened, piggybacking on the success of the critically-acclaimed 2012 film.
When it comes to this restaged version, I’ve now seen it three times: on tour, on Broadway, and on tour again, in that order. So, when I walked into the Hobby Center this time around, I more or less knew what to expect, but that still didn’t stop me from asking the usual questions. After all, I wanted to know how the cast would do, and I was wondering if, in the journey from Broadway back to the road, the show would suffer from the unfortunate feeling of “cheapness” that sometimes arises when a Broadway smash stretches itself too thin to adapt for theatres across the country.
Luckily, this was not the case. The tour is in as great a shape as ever, complete with a topnotch cast, a fascinating set, and a beautiful, booming orchestra. As we left the theatre, I was almost shaking with how giddy I was!
Many people have voiced disappointment with the fact that this production does away with the “turntable” that made the original production so memorable, but thanks to what the set presents in its place, the turntable isn’t missed here. Beautiful setpieces and backdrops perfectly emulate paintings by Victor Hugo himself, and the atmosphere takes on an appropriately dark, gritty, musky turn for a fair portion of the show in order to truly capture the low point we find our characters in. I really enjoyed this use of inspiration from Hugo’s art; the combination of the author’s visual work with his literature further serves to give the production more of Hugo’s unique “voice,” a voice that is essential in appreciating the original novel the way it’s intended to be appreciated. Dark lighting captures prison and the slums of Paris very well, giving audiences an insight into the dirty and lowly lives of the downcast.
The cast is, for the most part, outstanding. My only two reservations were with Mary Kate Moore as Fantine and Josh Davis as Javert. Moore gives a fine performance, but her “I Dreamed a Dream” falls a little flat, as Moore sings the song in a bland, “going through the motions” kind of way. Josh Davis is better as Javert, and his acting and voice are a fierce combination; unfortunately, Davis’ wonky pronunciation results in lyrics sounding distorted at times, making it hard to understand what he’s singing.
Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean is a true highlight. His acting is nuanced and deep, and each syllable he sings is soaked in enough emotion to make us hang on to every word, anxious to know what Valjean decides to do next. Considering the fact that Valjean seems to be a role that’s easy for actors to sing with little emotion, Cartell’s take on the role is nice and refreshing. He brings the house down with his remarkable rendition of “Bring Him Home.”
Joshua Grusso and Matt Shingledecker are also highlights as Marius and Enjolras, respectively. Shingledecker’s booming, commanding voice perfectly embodies the character, and Grusso, to combat a couple of (well-acted) humorous moments in “A Heart Full of Love,” offers a delightfully heartbreaking rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” Jillian Butler also has a gorgeous voice as Cosette, and the rest of the cast, ensemble included, truly give their all to make this a good performance.
If you’re a Les Mis fan, I’d say this production is well worth your time and money. Do keep in mind that, if you already feel one way or the other about past versions of this production, whether that be the tour or the Broadway run, then this tour won’t do much to change your mind. But in my eyes, a stellar cast performing on an artistic masterwork of a set is what truly makes this show worth a trip to the theatre.
(Photo credit: The Les Misérables tour website.)