Les Misérables at the Orpheum Theatre

Andrew Varela in Les Misérables.  Photo by Deen van Meer.

Andrew Varela in Les Misérables. Photo by Deen van Meer.

We’re going to make the crabby and dyspeptic Critic stand in the corner for this one.  Stay.  Quiet.

Ahem.

The venerable and vaunted Les Mis has roared into town for a disappointingly short run at the Orpheum (the show closes Aug 4).  This is the 25th Anniversary Tour of Les Misérables and, indeed, this musicalization of the great (and sprawling) Victor Hugo novel has become a theatrical industry.  The show began in France.  Then grandmaster producer Cameron Mackintosh took it on and off it took; Les Mis played in London (his West End production still runs).  The show moved to Broadway where it ran for 16 years, followed by a revival (with yet another revival scheduled in 2014).  Tours, shows around the world, concert performances, etc.  And of course the recent movie.  Les Mis conquered France, the U.K., the U.S., the world – and it will conquer you.

This Les Misérables is “reimagined”; it enjoys a new staging (by Laurence Connor and James Powell), new design and new orchestrations (Christopher Jahnke).  The latter are particularly effective, making the music richer, less jarring, more operatic – better.

Les Misérables is “sung through,” which is to say that composer Claude-Michel Schönberg‘s operatic songs are delivered sans dialogue.  The love songs thrill, as do the moving and ardent anthems of yearning for a better life.  The revolutionary fervor, as the citizens of Paris mount the gorgeously rendered barricades, sweeps and sways.  The red flag waves and torches up our own –   Excuse me.

I told you to be quiet.  Generic music?  The story of heroic Valjean and the predator Javert jerkily developed?  No.  No, you’re wrong.  Each character has a defined musical theme and Schönberg meshes them brilliantly, a technique that culminates in “One Day More,” the beautiful Act 1 Finale.  Murky lighting, garbled sound?  Are we going to have to ask you to leave?

Sorry.  Performances in Les Mis are marvelous.  As Valjean, Peter Locker grabs and holds the stage with his passionate tenor voice and his impeccable grasp of Valjean’s desire to surmount his criminal past.  Even better, arguably, is Andrew Varela as Javert.  His seething need for revenge, balanced by his genuine passion for justice (not to mention his growling, forceful baritone and his amazing charisma), affects brilliantly.  Devin Ilaw thrills as Marius, with his sweet, yet spirited presence.  He…

What do you mean, contradictory?  You’re suggesting that Marius can’t hold Éponine as she stirringly dies, and then shortly thereafter sing “Life without Cosette isn’t worth living?”  This diminishes him?  Hand me that blanket.

Briana Carson-Goodman as Éponine and Lauren Wiley as Cosette are terrific, excellent singers both.  As the Thénardiers, Timothy Gulan and Shawna M. Hamic are screamingly entertaining (and it’s not contradictory that they go from owners of a rural inn, to Paris revolutionaries, to wildly overdressed partiers at a chi-chi wedding; in fact it’s fun).  I loved Genevieve Leclerc as Fantine; her quiet presence thrills.

I could go on, but here’s the bottom line (and the reason for you to shell out the large dollars for Les Misérables): this cast sings brilliantly.  Claude-Michel Schönberg – and you – couldn’t ask for better performances.  Go.  Enjoy.  This is a memorable show.  Pay no attention to the man in the corner.

For more info about John Olive please visit his website.

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