Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Also see John's review of Clint Holmes at the Royal Room
Set in 19th century France, the story starts in the year of Napoleon's final defeat and follows the lives of its main characters over a twenty-year period, culminating in the Paris Uprising of 1832, often mistaken for the much earlier French Revolution which ended in 1799. The plot focuses on the struggles of the main character, ex-convict Jean Valjean, as he seeks to redeem himself from his past mistakes. It examines the impact of Valjean's actions, and the nature of good, evil and the law. It is certainly a profound commentary on the climate of the French political and social systems of the time and an insightful look at romantic, familial and altruistic love. In addition to this musical adaptation which stays mostly true to the original book, there have been more than 40 film adaptations of Victor Hugo's "Les Misèrables."
The original French production of the musical opened in Paris in September of 1980 at the Palais des Sports. Though it was an instant hit with French audiences, it was forced to close after the booking contract expired. The first production in English opened in London on October 8, 1985, at the Barbican Arts Centre. On December 4, 1985, it transferred to the Palace Theatre, and then on April 3, 2004, moved to the Queen's Theatre where it is still playing. The U.S. production opened on Broadway on March 12, 1987, at the Broadway Theatre. It was nominated for twelve Tony Awards, winning eight, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. On October 10, 1990, it moved to the Imperial Theatre where it closed on May 18, 2003, after 6,680 performances. The Broadway revival opened on November 9, 2006, at the Broadhurst Theatre, closing on January 6, 2008, after 496 performances. In addition to their work on Les Misèrables, the team of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil also wrote music and lyrics for the musicals Miss Saigon, La Revolution Francaise, Martin Guerre and The Pirate Queen.
This production of Les Misèrables features the addition of projection art, based on the drawings of Victor Hugo, that richly enhances the visual experience of the show, adding texture, movement and depth. As Jean Valjean carries Marius through the sewers of France, through projection we get to see the maze of tunnels around him. The buildings actually seem to pass by the marching throngs in the street in the song "Do You Hear The People Sing." Javert's fall from the bridge in his suicide scene is made spectacular as the bridge lifts away, and he is suspended in air plummeting to his death. The sound of the large, live orchestra is lush, and the ensemble of well trained voices sings with precision. It appears that the ensemble members (particularly the males) have been instructed to sing as loudly and with as much vibrato as possible, however. Two comments come to mind. First: loud is meaningless when not juxtaposed with other dynamics. Second: the more time a voice spends vibrating above and beneath the pitch, the less time it spends actually phonating on the tonal center. Please stop screaming. It sounds like you are competing with one another. Jeremy Hays who plays Enjolras has a glorious voice, but is the most guilty of trying to out-sing the others on stage. The oversinging of the ensemble makes for a first act that sounds oddly angry. By the way, when so much has been poured into the production values of a national tour, is it too much to ask that the criminals rowing the ship don't have beautifully layered, modern, haircuts in the very first scene?
The choice of color-blind casting the role of Jean Valjean with African-American actor Lawrence Clayton is slightly problematic. In the beginning of the show, after Jean Valjean is freed from prison, he goes from town to town seeking work. He is unjustly denied a fair wage, the right to work, and even food and housing. In the story the townspeople turn him away and throw him out of town because of his papers indicating that he is a criminal. At this time in history those unknown people moving into a new town were required to show their papers. Residents who supplied employment and/or services to those without the right papers did so at the potential risk of retribution by their neighbors. In this production, because the staging is not clearer, and there are not other actors of color playing the townspeople throwing Jean Valjean out, it looks like they are discriminating against him because of the color of his skin. We need to be certain Jean Valjean is being targeted only because of his papers identifying him as a criminal, yet Clayton sings a line specifically about the papers in his hand when he was not even holding any.
Andrew Varela turns in the strongest performance in the show as Javert. His commitment to the character, and his struggles with his conflict of right and wrong are clear. He has a comfortability with the role that only comes from really knowing your character and/or having played it for some time. His singing of "Star" is the best solo moment in the first act. It is closely followed by Chasten Harmon as Eponine with the song "On My Own." She has a strength and sweetness in both her singing and acting that are enjoyable to watch and hear. Too bad she can't lend some of that to Betsy Morgan as Fantine. Morgan is missing the angelic, ethereal quality of the role, and insists on belting all of "I Dreamed A Dream" with chin thrust out. Shawna M. Hamic is hysterical as Madame Thenardier. She deserves to be matched with an equally funny actor playing Monsieur Thenardier. Regrettably she is not, as Michael Kostroff skates through the role merely getting by on lines and bits that are funny because they are written that way. An all too brief appearance is made by Josh Caggiano as Gavroche. In that time he proves himself a delightfully talented young singer and actor. Unfortunately, the song "Little People" has been cut in this version of the show, so we don't get as much of him as we'd like.
Some very nice staging brings out the relationships between the students and emotionally highlights the sentiment of the song "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" sung by Justin Scott Brown as Marius. Together, he and Jenny Latimer as Cosette have the right feel as the young and callow lovers swept up in the fervor of the moment. Lawrence Clayton is disappointing as Valjean. He is not strongly enough connected to this role as an actor. Many of his action seem forced and seem to be a result of direction, not out of any place inside his own character. He also adds random Luther Vandross-style R & B licks to his vocals. It is inexcusable that he would do it, and embarrassing that the music director would allow him to do it. If Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg had wanted it sung that way, they would have written it that way. It is inappropriate to the musical style of Les Misèrables. It completely takes us out of the time period of the show and the acting moment within the scene. Because so much of this show rests on the actor playing Jean Valjean, unless you are just dying to see Les Misèrables, it may be best to wait for another production.
This production of Les Misèrables will be appearing at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through January 30, 2011. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts is located in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District at 201 SW Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Presentations at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts are sponsored in part by the State of Florida, the Department of State, the Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Support is also contributed by the Broward Performing Arts Foundation, Inc... The Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment Consortium is a cultural partnership between the Performing Arts Center Authority, the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Florida Grand Opera, Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and The Historic Stranahan House Museum. It is supported by the Broward County Board of County Commissioners as recommended by the Broward Cultural Council and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Visitors Bureau. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts houses the Au-Rene Theater, the Amaturo Theatre, and the Abdo New River Room, and has affiliated venues at the Parker Playhouse, the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center, the Miramar Cultural Center and the newly opened Aventura Arts & Cultural Center. For any of the offerings of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts you may contact them by phone at 954-462-0222 or online at www.browardcenter.org. For more information on this tour, visit www.lesmis.com.
Broadway Across America - Ft. Lauderdale is presented in arrangement with the Florida Theatrical Association, which is a non-profit, civic organization with a volunteer board of trustees established to ensure the continued presentation of quality national touring Broadway productions in the state of Florida. Broadway Across America is dedicated to creating memorable and accessible theatrical experiences for all guests, selling over five million tickets to first rate Broadway shows, family productions and other live theatrical events in over 40 North American cities each year. For more information or to purchase tickets through an authorized agent, please visit www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.
The actors and actresses in this production are member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.