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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Stunning Les Misérables at the Marcus Center

Theater Review

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Les Misérables is a universally admired staple of musical theater, and with this production it is easy to see why. Considering its popularity, it seems disrespectful to imply that it's not above reproach. But the politics have never been too clear. Much is made of the “manning of the barricades” motif, but the revolutionary theme, while seeming current in our perplexing times, has always appeared somewhat oddly ungrounded in this particular venue.

Between the beggarly poor and the student revolutionaries, the good characters in the lengthy Victor Hugo novel have always been the poignantly virtuous. Jean Valjean and his nemesis, Inspector Javert, were stunningly vocalized by Ron Sharpe and Andrew Varela during last week's Broadway at the Marcus Center performance. In the show's current touring production, their interactions coincide less with the drama and more to provide space for a multitude of subplots and colorful characters, leaving the impression that the show needs more focus to add up to the sum of its parts.

However, this is not necessarily a negative. Familiarity breeds affection. There are many interesting vignettes and richly framed characters well known to audiences. The story of Valjean's adopted orphaned daughter, Cosette, and her romance with young revolutionary student Marius (charmingly sung by Jenny Latimer and somewhat tentatively by Justin Scott Brown) adds needed romance.

This 25th anniversary production, superbly revitalized and staged by Cameron Mackintosh, lacks little in visceral excitement and gives the famous work a new look, adding raw gusto to the familiar score. Scene changes are rapid and stunningly realistic. Stage dynamics occur with rapid-fire urgency. Laurence Connor and James Powell's direction with Michael Ashcroft's musical staging would have done James Cameron proud. The din of battle is brilliantly lighted and barricades are splattered with bloody corpses. When Javert finally jumps into the Seine, the stage splits uncannily, allowing him to sing his final cry beneath the waves.