Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Smashing Production of Les Misérables

Also see Richard's reviews of Hush Up, Sweet Charlotte and the Tea at Five

Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's masterpiece Les Misérables is back on the Curran Stage for a limited engagement. This is the farewell tour, since the musical will be open to regional theatres in several years. It is hard to believe that this classic is nearing 20 years old and still going strong. There are no great technical achievements as in Phantom of the Opera or Miss Saigon, but like "old man river," this show just keeps rolling along.

This excellent production with wonderful singers, production values and startling lighting effects thrills me to the bone. It marks the seventh time I have seen the classic Victor Hugo novel brought to life and it is amazing how anyone could have presented this complicated novel on stage.

Les Misérables opened at the Barbican Theatre on October 16, 1985 where I saw a young Patti LuPone play Fantine, with Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean and Roger Allam as Javert. I knew this magnum opus would make musical history when I first saw the production. I saw the Broadway premiere in 1987 at the Broadway Theatre with Colm Wilkinson repeating his role and Terrence Mann playing Javert. Since that time, I have seen a performance at the Queen's Theatre in London plus national touring companies of the musical. Each time, I have been elated by the singers and the sheer scope of the musical, which borders on modern opera. I firmly believe that this opus will be presented by opera companies in the years to come, along with Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.

Cameron Mackintosh has not scrimped on the cast or the spectacular sets. This is not a "bus and truck" production; it features outstanding singers and actors. The cast is triumphant with exciting voices, and they can act. The three hour production is still very fresh and exciting The show's narrative momentum and the brilliantly organized staging are incredible. The score flourishes in intricate layers that are both delicate and evocative.

Randal Keith (Jean Valjean in Toronto plus the title role in The Phantom of the Opera) plays the role with great authority and buoyancy. He has a wonderful thundering voice that is marvelous to hear. His "Bring Him Home" is superbly passionate. Javert played by Robert Hunt (Les Misérables on Broadway and on tour plus title role in Jekyll & Hyde in Portland) is a wonderful antagonist for Valjean and Hunt has a splendid voice to match. He commands attention every time he is on stage. His "Soliloquy" is outstanding.

Adam Jacobs (The Prince in Cinderella national tour and San Francisco native) as Marius and Leslie Henstock (recently in the ensemble of Les Misérables) as Cosette are very good as the young lovers. Jacobs personifies the passion and naivetĂ© of the student revolutionaries while Henstock offers genuineness and ardor in her performance.

David Benoit (Broadway Les Misérables, Dance of the Vampires) and Jennifer Butt (who originated her role on Broadway) as the comic Thenardiers have a zestful and hilarious technique that gives the show the needed humor. Ms. Butt looks strikingly like Carol Burnett in one of her zany television scenes. Tonya Dixon (Broadway Sarah in Ragtime and national tour of Dreamgirls) as Fantine and Melissa Lyons (Peter in Peter Pan and Lady Larken in Once Upon a Mattress) as Eponine are excellent in their roles. Dixon, as the pathetic mother who is forced to give up her child, puts across one of the great songs, "I Dreamed a Dream," with great poignancy. Eponine's signature song, "On My Own," is lovingly sung by Lyons. Michael Halling as Enjolras has a clear strong voice when he sings the stirring "Do You Hear the People Sing?", an inspiring end to the second act. Noah E. Galvin makes his first professional appearance as the young Gavroche, and he is incredible in the role. He has a crystal clear voice as he sings about the "little people" who help in the revolution.

Les Misérables has a limited engagement at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street, through July 24. Tickets can be obtained at the box office, the Orpheum Theatre box office at 1192 Market Street, at ticketmaster ticket centers and Call Ticketmaster at 415-512-7770.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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