The Boublil/Schönberg/Kretzmer musical based on Victor Hugo's epic work has arrived in Pittsburgh again, in a Broadway Series appearance at the Benedum Center. This show, which may hold the record for actors dying onstage, is a favorite among many fans of newer works in theatre. With an ingratiating score, Les Misérables tells the saga of the last 17 years of the life of Jean Valjean, a reformed thief who tries to do well by his fellow man. The story is probably well known, though supporting materials in the program, dates on the stage scrim, narrative, and song all contribute to preventing the audience from becoming lost or confused during the three hour tale. So much happens in this show, life-changing events are reduced to a few minutes and the action often seems very rushed, even when the cast is not spinning on the turntable, but especially when they are.
For many, what makes or breaks a production of Les Misérables is the quality of the singing voices in the cast, particularly that of the leads. This production holds up well in that department, most importantly in the role of Jean Valjean, played by Randal Keith. Keith plays a Valjean small in stature, large in voice. The vocal range required for this role is challenging, and Keith is quite up to the task. His presentation of the poignant yet powerful songs written for his character is very enjoyable. Joseph Mahowald as Javert, the hunter on the "right" side of the law, also has an impressive voice. He plays Javert as a stoic man, with anger always seething just below the surface.
The key women are also well represented. Jayne Paterson as Fantine, Stephanie Waters as Cosette, and Dina Lynne Morishita as Eponine each sing their parts well, with Paterson and Morishita showing fine acting skills as well. Madeleine Martin succeeds with a lovely young voice and appropriate pitiful but feisty personality as Young Cosette.
The supporting cast does well, too, with Stephen Tewksbury singing gloriously as Enjolras and Edward Juvier sounding fine as Marius, a man who falls in love quicker than anyone, except Cosette. Special attention must be paid to Eddie Brandt, a star in the making, as Gavroche the street urchin and mascot of the student revolutionaries. Brandt has poise, is a natural actor, and sings beautifully. He is a joy to watch and hear.
The sleazy comic relief couple, the Thénardiers, played by J. P. Dougherty and Anne Buelteman (understudy), provide sardonic levity, though the music and lyrics of their songs are the true stars.
The set, designed by John Napier, is impressive, appropriate, and functional. The ubiquitous turntable may move a bit fast at times, and with more ensemble members would be less obvious, but the rest of the set works well and fits well within the stage area. Costumes by Andreane Neofitou are very nicely done, though there are a few wigs that could use a little work.
The 15-member orchestra, conducted by Larry Pressgrove, sounds full and supports the singing and the action very nicely.
All in all, this production of Les Misérables is well done and enjoyable, with the particular highlights of Randal Keith and Eddie Brandt.
A special presentation outside the subscription series, Les Misérables continues at the Benedum Center through December 2. For tickets and further information, call 412-456-6666 or visit the Broadway Across America (formerly Broadway series) website at www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/pittsburgh/
-- Ann Miner