Monday, September 24, 2012

No Misery In This 'Les Miserables' : A night at the Orpheum Theatre with 'Les Miserables' is the best time you’ll ever have being miserable



Masterful and perfectly executed, this Les Mis is well worth any time or expense spent to see it.

Breathless.
That is the only word to describe my state by the end of Broadway’s touring production ofLes Miserables that opened Tuesday night at the Orpheum Theatre.
For those who are unfamiliar with Les Mis, it is based on the Victor Hugo novel about an ex-con (Jean Valjean) who breaks parole and spends the rest of his life fleeing Javiert, a police officer. Valjean tries to make up for his criminal past, most notably by adopting an orphaned girl (Cosette) and raising her as his own.
The pair are caught up in turbulence as the French Revolution begins, and Cosette finds love with a student (Marius) who is the only survivor of a barricade battle. Scattered throughout the story are Cosette’s original caregivers (the delightfully devious Thernardiers) and their daughter Eponine, who is secretly in love with Marius and is the first person to die at the barricade.
There is not one complaint I can make about this production, whose traditional presentation has been updated for this tour. The set? Efficient and evocative. Costumes? See the set. Scrims? The addition of video footage creates a stunning visual effect. Pacing? You don’t even notice three hours have passed by curtain’s close. And the singing?
Oh the singing.
This is an extremely hard show to sing, and from start to finish it is obvious that this cast is unusually strong at all ends. I can’t find a weak link in the bunch. The Thenardiers (Shawna M. Hamic and Richard Vida) are deliciously evil.  Fantine and Cosette (Betsy Morgan and Jenny Latimer, respectively) appropriately angelic. Javiert (Andrew Varela) solid and unflinching. Marius (Max Quinlan) youthful and emotive.
Jean Valjean (J. Mark McVey) is especially extraordinary, particularly with the oft-oversung “Bring Him Home.” McVey breathed life and desperation into this poignant plea to God while the audience sobbed (literally- not a dry eye in the house) along. Eponine (Chasten Harmon) has an Idina Menzel-like tone that stretches notes far past where they ought to go.
The ensemble is also dynamic, particularly with “The People’s Song” and “One Day More.” They nearly blew my ears off – in the best way possible. The pit (directed by Robert Billig, who first conducted Les Mis on Broadway) is equally revelatory.
This old story feels curiously pertinent, a premonition to the protests that swept the Middle East this spring and our unflinching political climate that bears a striking resemblance to the suicidal Javiert. We can all use a refresher from the lessons of Les Mis: that forgiveness and compassion are always better than steadfast vengeance; that even the lowest echelon of society has value and needs; and that sometimes it is worth risking everything to fight for something you believe in.
Masterful and perfectly executed, this Les Mis is well worth any time or expense spent to see it. It’s the best time you’ll ever have being miserable.
+ Les Miserables continues through Dec. 18 at the Orpheum Theatre. For show times and ticket information visit hennepintheatretrust.org.