Les Miserables Storms Back To Boston

They’re calling this the “New 25th Anniversary Production” of “Les Miserables” but I’ve got a better name for it; this is the FULL Les Miserables.  Not les mis, or Les Miz, or Les Mis PBS beg-a-thon edition .. no, this is the real flesh and blood, fly the flag, sing to the rafters, leave no man behind production that this epic deserves.  It is exceptional in every way.

Victor Hugo didn’t set out to write a piece that people would nibble over like tea cakes on a sunny afternoon.  “Les Miserables” is rare roast beef .. a rich French burgundy, BIG themes, BIG emotions, BIG risks.  Don’t look for subtle, ’cause subtle ain’t walking out on that stage.  This is musical theatre for people who want to let their hearts soar, and tears flow.  Surrender to the magic of this show and you will be rewarded in so many ways.

The cast of “Les Miserables” may be the finest ensemble to grace the Opera House stage in a very long time.  Top to bottom they are pitch perfect.  J. Mark McVey is a Jean Valjean for the ages.  Soulful, and world weary he carries the show on his back in the same way he carries the wounded Marius in Act II.  His voice cries for justice in “Who Am I?” and leaves you nothing short of astonished in ‘Bring Him Home.”

Not to be outdone, Andrew Varela commands the stage as Javert, the keeper of the law who relentlessly pursues Valjean, and loses his humanity.  He sings “Stars” with an almost other-worldly power. If you’ve never experienced a show-stopping moment, this is one.

Like the novel it’s based on, the musical “Les Miserables” has a lot to say.  A lot to say about justice, a lot to say about love, a lot to say about making choices .. good and bad.  At times it moves to fast.  At times it moves to slow.  At times the songs by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer all start blending into each other.  Then, out of nowhere, the classics appear.

“I Dreamed a Dream” was propelled back into the pop culture mainstream by Susan Boyle, but that doesn’t blunt its impact when Fantine makes her heartbreaking confession.  Betsy Morgan puts the emphasis on emotion and not technique and gives the song its true grandeur.

The same can be said for Chasten Harmon who plays the doomed Eponine .. “On My Own” flows beautifully, a river is not just a river.  Harmon’s phrasings can come off a little too contemporary at times, but it is a winning performance just the same.

And the win streak doesn’t stop there.  You get a masterful “Master of the House” from Richard Vida and Shawna Hamic as the loathsome Thenardier’s.  They mix the ribald with the vile expertly, and don’t sugarcoat their villainy.  They sell it without selling out.

As the lovers, Max Quinlan as Marius and Julie Benko as Cosette are endearing and believable.  The whole love at first sight thing can be a yawn in lesser hands.  These two win you over and have you pulling for them.

Finally I have to mention Jeremy Hays as the student, firebrand Enjolras.  He’s intensity just burns through every scene.  When he raises that rifle or waves that flag you believe it, man!  Oh yeah, and he has a killer voice too.

In bringing “Les Miserables” back, producer Cameron Mackintosh turned to the direction team of Laurence Connor and James Powell.  They came up with the idea of using some of Victor Hugo’s lesser known art works in the staging.  It was a brilliant idea.  The projections have a rich texture that work well with the fog and lighting effects.  Connor and Powell were also wise to include the spectacular set pieces that bring 19th century France to life.  The barricades are amazing, and you can almost smell the sweat and blood in the slums of Paris.  Add the earth tones of the peasant clothing and the shots of color in the military uniforms and you’ve got a living, breathing, society on the edge.

“Les Miserables” is only at the Opera House until April 1st.  If there’s a ticket to be had, grab it fast.  For anyone who wants to recapture the experience .. or see the show for the first time .. this is an opportunity not to be missed.

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