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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Gorgeous and Powerful Production of Les Misérables

Also see Richard's review Spunk

Les Mis
Peter Lockyer
A re-deigned and re-orchestrated vision of Les Misérables has arrived to rock the Orpheum Theatre. This marks the fifth time I have seen this musical, including the original London production in 1985 and the Broadway production later on. This version is on par with all of the five productions I have seen. It has a soaring Valjean, an impressive Javert, phantasmal effects of Victor Hugo's original paintings, and superb voices.

The 25th Anniversary Tour does not have the turntable stage, but brand new sets, new lighting and new orchestrations. The orchestra has been trimmed, although it is still booming and bombastic. Les Misérables spans 20 years in the life Jean Valjean as he fights to escape his past and find reclamation in an immoral and unforgiving society. Every time Valjean builds his life for himself, figures from his past come back to haunt him.

Under the direction of Laurence Connor and James Powell on the impressionistic set of Matt Kinley, which is both exquisite and threatening, and combined with some astounding projections by Fifty-Nine Productions, the staging of the show is absolutely outstanding. Adreane Neofitou's costumes are equally perfect.

Les Misérables depends a lot on the acting skills and voices of its principals to make the scenes work. It does take time to warm up to this production, especially during the 13-minute prologue that sees Valjean out of prison, robbing a bishop, and then being granted a new life. However, following the prologue the musical takes off like gang busters.

Peter Lockyer makes for a powerful, impressive Valjean, the tortured convict. His commanding, devastating prayer "Bring Him Home," sung while Marius prepares for battle, is a dramatic high point. As Marius, Max Quinlan has a golden voice, especially when the young solder remembers his fallen comrades in "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." His spiraling voice is filled with emotion.

A showstopper as always is the rousing "Master of the House," and Timothy Gulan and Shawna M. Hamic as the bumptious Thenardiers are a joy to see and hear. Andrew Varela as Javert imbues his numbers with full throated steadiness. He pours emotion and atonement into the character's final "Soliloquy".

Briana Carlson-Goodman has dynamic vocal chops as the forsaken, unfortunate Eponine. She brings a subtle, nuanced touch to the unloved, unwanted character. Her belting of "On My Own" is potent. Betsy Morgan has a mellifluous voice as Fantine and does a beautiful interpretation of "I Dreamed a Dream," and Lauren Wiley with a lovely voice offers a gentle quality for Cosette. The child actors Abbey Rose Gould, Zoe Eliades, and the tiny Marcus D'Angelo admirably fill the roles of young Cosette, young Eponine and Gavroche. The ensemble voices are impressive singing "At The End of the Day" and the rousing "Do You Hear the People Sing?"

Les Misérables is an erudite and near on perfection rendition of visual and musical entertainment with empathy at its heart. It's extremely funny, amazingly moving and enchantingly entertaining.

Les Misérables runs through August 26 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.lesmis.com/us-tour.


Photo: Deen Van Meer

- Richard Connema



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