Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Les Misérables the musical is a world-wide phenomenon. It opened in London in 1985, under the auspices of the Royal Shakespeare Company, transferred to the West End that year, then to the Queens Theatre in 2004, where it continues to play today, despite the theater undergoing a name change and a five-month restoration period. A Broadway run of 16 years has been followed by two revivals, in 2006 and 2014, as well as international tours. This tour launched from the 2014 Broadway revival which incorporated a fresh staging, sans turntable by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt. Lovers of this musical, and I am decidedly one, will have their own feelings about which version is preferred, but in truth much of Trevor Nunn and John Caird's original staging is intact, along with costume designs by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland and set design by Matt Kinley which are copies of John Napier's originals. The tour is directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell.
Based on a classic novel by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables is the story of John Valjean, in prison at the start for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving nephew, with his sentence extended for attempts to escape. He is hounded by Inspector Javert, who subscribes to the adage once a thief, always a thief. Valjean turns his life around, becomes a man of honor and esteem, but the cat and mouse chase continues for over 30 years. All this is set against a student revolution which took place in Paris circa 1830s, protesting the treatment of the poor. This musical is one of the most epic ever undertaken successfully.
I have seen Les Misérables some 10 or 12 times, on Broadway and U.S. tours, including some of the most memorable performances of the key roles. The show is best when the music is well served and the leads (Valjean, Javert, Fantine, Cosette, Marius and Eponine) are also solid actors. In the 2012 film, the music was underserved; no one in the cast could possibly have taken their role on stage. The current touring cast is across the board solid, fine singers, but none are in the same class as the best I have seen.
Patrick Dunn sings the role of Jean Valjean splendidly, with a solid tenor. Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role in London and on Broadway, is more baritone than tenor. The part has been sung by both voice types, but I prefer the more baritone sound. Dunn is probably the best actor among the principals. Preston Truman Boyd is Javert, singing with poise throughout, best in his big numbers ("Stars" and "Soliloquy," also known as "Javert's Suicide") than in the multiple confrontations with Valjean. Mary Kate Moore is youngish for Fantine, completely appropriate. She seemed to struggle vocally at the performance I attended, perhaps an issue with the sound technicians. Joshua Grosso is a handsome, vocally assured Marius opposite Jillian Butler looking lovely as Cosette.
The comedy falls to Jimmy Smagula, one of the better Thenardiers I have seen, and Michelle Dowdy as Madame Thenardier, almost his equal. Phoenix Best is their daughter, the young Eponine. Parker Dzuba is a spitfire Gavroche and Petit Gervais, sharing the role with Patrick Scott McDermott (not seen). Matt Shingledecker rouses the students as Enjolras, singing "Red and Black" and "Do You Hear the People Sing?."
This tour is in quite good shape. All the emotions that should be stirred are, and the ensemble is very fine. The new staging loses none of the epic sweep of the story in both novel and musical. If you haven't seen Les Misérables ever or in a long time, brave the screening and get to Van Wezel early and see this fine cast.
Les Misérables runs through March 1, 2020, at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, please call 800-826-9303 or visit www.VanWezel.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.lesmis.com/us-tour/.
Principal Cast (in order of appearance):