Also see Susan's review of Next To Normal
In the years since Les Misérables premiered on Broadway in 1986, many of its visual images have become iconic: the constant motion of scenery on a double turntable; the wedge formation of rebels streaming toward the audience with an enormous red flag waving overhead; the poetically posed deaths of fighters on an elaborately constructed barricade. Director Eric Schaeffer's reconceived production of the musical at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, includes none of those familiar elements, but it's as moving and engrossing as ever.
This production brings together veterans of the pop opera by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, based on Victor Hugo's classic novel, with some of the Washington area's most noteworthy musical actors. Schaeffer is working with a 28-member cast and 14 musicians in the MAX black box theater space, which, in its current configuration, seats 280 people on three sides of the stage.
"One Day More"
What this production loses in spectacle it gains in intimacy: the actors are face to face with the audience, extending the action beyond the boundaries of the stage. Walt Spangler's scenic design, supported by Mark Lanks' vivid lighting design, conjures a succession of scenes from a floor grate, an elevated platform, broken windows and ceiling panels, barricades that incorporate staircases and ladders and (rather mystifyingly) several chairs hoisted above the stage floor on pulleys.
Part of Schaeffer's vision is that the cast comprises a community; most of the performers play numerous roles. The standouts include Felicia Curry, who gives a heartrending performance as Eponine; Andrew Call, an intense, idealistic Marius, well matched with Stephanie Waters, a Cosette with both beauty and backbone; Tracy Lynn Olivera, a Fantine who fights to keep her dignity; and Sherri L. Edelen as the gleefully crass Madame Thénardier, who succeeds in stealing focus from Christopher Bloch as her equally larcenous husband.
The two lead actors are well matched. Greg Stone presents Jean Valjean as less brawny and more spiritual than many other actors, specifically in his ethereal rendition of "Bring Him Home," and Tom Zemon is a youthful Javert, sleek and manipulative.