Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
That masterpiece, based on the novel by Victor Hugo, has embarked on a new national tour that is now at the Orpheum for two weeks, as part of the Broadway on Hennepin series. This mounting of Les Misérables delivers the same gripping story and gorgeous music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, with English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer (original book and French lyrics by Jean-Marc Natel and Alain Boublil), within a rethought physical production that takes advantage of advances in the use of projections to supplement scenic and lighting elements, creating an even more immersive environment than the 1987 Broadway original, which was state of the art at the time.
Hugo follows the travails of Jean Valjean, a French man imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread in order to feed his sister's starving child. For this crime, and for multiple escape attempts, he serves nineteen years on a chain gang. His joy at being paroled is short-lived, as he is informed by his parole officer Javert that he will always live under the cloud of being a known criminal, for it is known that men "like him" can never change. Valjean comes close to squandering his freedom, but a twist of fate and the merciful kindness of a priest enable him to escape his past and establish himself as a respectable citizen, owner of a factory and mayor of the town. Still, that dark cloud and the indefatigable Javert pursue him. When Valjean becomes guardian of an impoverished orphan named Cosette, he vows to shelter her from the abuse and despair he has known, moving with her to Paris where he hopes they may disappear among the masses.
In Paris, Valjean raises Cosette to be a refined and beautiful young woman. On the streets, however, civil unrest is brewing, with student revolutionaries leading the charge against the French monarchy. One student, Marius, meets and falls in love with Cosette and is then torn between his cause and his yearnings. The plot is interwoven with a thieving couple (presented as comic relief) who are a vexation to Jean Valjean, their daughter Éponine, who is stricken with unrequited love for Marius, the advance of the rebellion, and Javert's obsessive pursuit of his escaped parolee, Jean Valjean. The tangents come together in a totally satisfying conclusion that is heartbreaking and life affirming, with the promise of hope and the pain of loss walking arm in arm.
Directors Laurence Connor and James Powell have a steady hand on the show's large scale, managing transitions between huge set pieces and movements of its large ensemble cast with seamless fluency, while still narrowing focus to minute, essential gestures and words that convey the story's heart. Les Misérables is completely sung-through, with an astonishing amount of music to support its near three-hour running time (though, so mesmerizing is the staging, it never feels like a long sit), with the sound clear enough to make out the lyrics as they propel the plot and reveal feelings. The orchestra, with music director Brian Eads conducting, plays magnificently, a real feat considering there is nary time for them to rest. While there is continuous movement, dance, per-se, is limited. The program credits Geoffrey Garratt for musical staging, much of which consists of ensemble members grouping in different ways to form evocative stage pictures, be they of whores at a harbor-side brothel, revelers at a roadside inn, students summoning their courage to man the barricades, or celebrants at a genteel wedding. The first act closing, with the powerful "One Day More" joining every thread of the story together with the complete cast appearing and closing ranks, approaches an ecstatic melding of sound and image.
The cast is astonishingly accomplished, from the leads to the large ensemble. Nick Carter holds center court as Jean Valjean, with impassioned acting and a stunning voice, mesmerizing as he wrestles with his new-found morality (in "Who Am I?") and bringing down the house with his delivery of the exquisite prayer, "Bring Him Home." Hayden Tee plays Javert for the first week of the run, with Preston Truman Boyd slated to step in the second week. Tee is likewise remarkable, powerfully declaring the certainty of his convictions in "Stars," only to thrash in the chaos of uncertainty in his "Soliloquy."
Christine Heesun Hwang makes a tremendous impression as the tragically overlooked Éponine, wrenching at our hearts with a stunning delivery of "On My Own" and in "A Little Fall of Rain," a tenderly delivered duet with Marius, played by Gregory Lee Rodriguez. Rodriguez makes his own powerful impression in a mournful ode to his fallen comrades, "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." Addie Morales ably conveys Cosette's yearning to learn more about her life, so sheltered by Valjean, in "In My Life," and Haley Dortch as Cosette's mother Fantine beautifully conveys the saga of her fall from grace in "I Dreamed a Dream." Devin Archer as Enjolras, leader of the student revolutionaries, commands attention with his forceful "Red and Black" and "Do You Hear the People Sing?," the latter becoming as powerful an anthem as I have heard on any stage. As the thieving Thénardiers, Christina Rose Hall and Matt Crowle draw out the ribald comical elements while essaying a pair of despicable characters who would sell their own mother for a farthing.
This production of Les Misérables uses a darker palette, with many black and grey tones both in the lit set pieces and in a background that seems often enshrouded in fog, all suited to the tone and tenor of the story. Matt Kinley designed the set and images, which serve the production to create a large array of locations. The opening ship's galley where the prisoners are enslaved, the factory where Fantine struggles to maintain her dignity, the roughneck harbor, the subterranean tavern where the students gather, and the amassed debris that forms the barricades from which the students mean to wage their rebellion, are all beautifully rendered. The projections, realized by Finn Ross and Fifty-Nine Productions, enhance each of these settings and bring a wondrous sense of movement and perspective in several scenes, as when the students march through the streets and when Javert at least reaches the final stage of his decades-long pursuit of Valjean.
Paule Constable's lighting design builds even further to create an immersive environment, used with especially great effect to depict the battle at the barricades. The vast array of costumes by Christine Rowland and Paul Wills, based on original designs by Andreane Neofitou, bring the French populace of the early 19th century from all social classes to vivid life, with Stefan Musch's wig, hair and make-up design adding additional punch.
Les Misérables, in my mind, stands among the greatest works of musical theater. This new production makes the experience even more immediate and powerful, without losing any of the beauty of its music or the power of its narrative. The notion of someone striving to live by what is right, in the face of legalisms based on cruelty and a false sense of determinism–a man driven, by desperation, to steal a loaf of bread shouldn't be cast for life as a hardened criminal, incapable of change–remains a compelling call to resist tyrants or would-be tyrants. Hugo and the artists who have brought his vision to the stage, illustrate love between a man and a child, not even his own, but one to whom he is pledged; love among men who share a virtuous cause; love between a man and a woman; and love for a higher power that enables one to conceive of justice and virtue even in its absence.
Les Misérables runs through December 18, 2022, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $70.00 - $140.00. Educator and student rush seats available for unsold tickets beginning two hours before performances, $40.00, cash only, limit of two tickets per ID. For ticket and performance information call 612-339-7007 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.lesmis.com/us-tour.
Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg; Lyrics: Herbert Kretzmer; Original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel; Additional material: James Fenton; Adaptation from the novel by Victor Hugo: Trevor Nunn and John Caird; Directors: Laurence Connor and James Powell; Musical Staging: Geoffrey Garratt; New Orchestrations: Stephen Metcalfe, Christopher Jahnke and Stephen Brooker; Original Orchestrations: John Cameron; Set and Image Design: Matt Kinley; Projections: Finn Ross and Fifty-Nine Productions; Original Costume Design: Andreane Neofitou; Additional Costume Design: Christine Rowland and Paul Wills; Lighting Design: Paule Constable; Sound Design: Mick Potter; Wigs, Hair and Makeup Design: Stefan Musch; Music Supervision: Brian Taylor; Music Director and Conductor: Brian Eads; Musical Supervision: Stephen Brooker and James Moore; Casting: Felicia Rudolph, CA, Merri Sugarman, CSA for Tara Rubin Casting; Resident Director; Richard Barth; Associate Director Corey Agnew; Musical Staging Associate: Jesse Robb.
Cast: Kyle Adam (ensemble), Devin Archer (Enjolras), Daniel Gerard Bittner (ensemble), Ciaran Bowling (ensemble), Preston Truman Boyd (Inspector Javert December 13 18), Jenna Burns (ensemble), Nick Cartell (Jean Valjean), Ben Cherington (swing), Matt Crowle (Thénardiers), Steve Czarnecki (ensemble), Kelsey Denae (wigmaker/ensemble), Arianne DiCerbo (ensemble), Haley Dortch (Fantine), Genevieve Ellis (ensemble), Harrison Fox* (Gavroche), Christina Rose Hall (Madame Thénardiers), Christine Heesun Hwang (Éponine), Randy Jeter (Bishop of Digne/ensemble), Daelynn Carter Jorif (ensemble), Gabriel Lafazan* (Gavroche), Olivia J. Lu (ensemble), Eden Mau (ensemble), Andrew Marks Maughan (ensemble), Cora Jane Messer* (Little Cosette/Young Éponine), Benjamin H. Moore (ensemble), Addie Morales (Cosette), Nicole Morris (swing), Ashley Dawn Mortensen (swing), Julia Ellen Richardson (ensemble), Gregory Lee Rodriguez (Marius), Ethan Rogers (ensemble), Christopher Robin Sapp (swing), Emily Somé (ensemble), Christopher James Tamayo (ensemble), Hayden Tee (Inspector Javert December 6 11), Kyle Timson (swing), Hazel Vogel* (Little Cosette/Young Éponine), J.T. Wood (ensemble), David Young (ensemble). *alternating performances