Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Damn Yankees
While Les Misérables has visited Washington six times before, it's good to see it back, especially in as sharp a production as the one now at the National Theatre. The producers bill this engagement as the "final" one; it's likely to be the last with this level of talent and production values, and it's well worth seeing.
The epic pop opera based on Victor Hugo's novel actually had its U.S. premiere in Washington, where it played the Kennedy Center in 1986 before its 16-year run on Broadway. Many people now know the show by heart: the sweeping drama of Hugo's story as distilled into three hours by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, with Schönberg's intense music and Herbert Kretzmer's emphatic and tender lyrics.
The primary conflict pits Jean Valjean (Randal Keith), a convict who breaks his parole and sets out to build a new, respectable life for himself, against Javert (Robert Hunt), a policeman whose iron sense of duty and rectitude keeps him on Valjean's trail. Along the way, Valjean offers help to the desperate Fantine (Joan Almedilla) and, when she dies, becomes the guardian of her daughter, Cosette (Meg Guzulescu or Rachel Schier as a child, Leslie Henstock as an adult). This being a 19th-century novel, Cosette finds love at first sight with Marius (Adam Jacobs), a revolutionary student in Paris, as Valjean tries to protect her from knowing about his own past and Javert's pursuit.
Understudy Jason Kraack, standing in for Keith, does a fine job in a massive role. Valjean basically carries the entire show on his shoulders, appearing in almost every scene, and Kraack stepped up to the challenge admirably, only tripping on a few of his innumerable lyrics. Hunt brings a chiseled profile and a steely voice to Javert, who is portrayed as overly concerned with the letter rather than the spirit of morality, a counterweight to Valjean.
Other standouts are Victor Wallace as Enjolras, clarion-voiced leader of the rebellion; Melissa Lyons as Eponine, an intriguing contrast of tomboyish manner and full, womanly body; and Fabio Polanco and original cast member Jennifer Butt as the extravagantly and humorously villainous Monsieur and Madame Thénardier. Nine-year-old Austyn Myers, who alternates with Anthony Skillman as the street urchin Gavroche, exudes personality, but isn't always easy to hear or understand.
While touring productions may have a reputation of skimpiness compared with the original Broadway staging, this Les Misérables is comparable. The set follows John Napier's original design, with its familiar turntable and its iconic piles of sculpted metal that, with a little help from hydraulics, form the barricade.
The National Theatre