LES MISERABLES returns to the Academy of Music for a two-week run until January 21. Last seen in Philadelphia in 2013, this is a totally reimagined production by Cameron Mackintosh of the classic musical created by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Shonberg thirty-two years ago.
Thirty-two years ago, the other popular Broadway shows were A Chorus Line (1985), Footloose (1984), and Little Shop of Horrors (1986). Unlike these musicals, LES MISERABLES has never really left the public consciousness. It is a testament to the strong story first told by Victor Hugo in the 19th century, which addressed timeless topics such as poverty, despair, starvation, obsession, hope, love in its many guises, and the cold, inhuman forces of the law. Upton Sinclair called it “one of the half-dozen greatest novels of the world.”
A vehemence of expression marks this current production of LES MISERABLES. New staging and reimagined scenery are inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, which prove to be so very important in the theatrical experience. Few may even know Hugo was a painter. During an escape through the Parisian sewers, we are thrilled by the cinematic effects of actually walking along the sewers. This is only one of the many excellent theatrical effects on stage.
Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean was phenomenal. From our very first encounter, Cartell is an elemental force fearful to be reckoned with. Only when the Bishop of Digne (a fine Andrew Love) feeds the starving Jean Valjean, does Valjean realize that there is such a thing as human kindness, experiencing an epiphany which turns him from a base creature concerned with survival into a noble hero. Age only improves Valjean, as he rescues Fantine, Cosette, and Marius from death or torture. Nick Cartell’s delivery of the music written for Jean Valjean travels the course from strong, young man to a beatific elder. His “Bring Him Home” could make the stones weep.
There were other fine cast members. As the obsessed man of the law, Javert, who pursued Valjean for years, Josh Davis was an audience favorite. Davis’s darkly satanic demeanor only enhanced his excellently deep, sepulchral voice. As the repulsively disgusting mercenaries, Thenardier (J. Anthony Crane) and Madame Thenardier (Allison Guinn), were riveting in both their singing and acting. Both Thenardiers were as persistent as tuberculosis. The repulsive Madame scolding the tot Cosette was heartbreaking. The dogged obsession with pursuing Valjean to bleed more money from him marked them both as truly evil. Thenardier singing while robbing the dead seemed totally natural for such a miscreant. One might go so far as to say he was the first successful self-made man, as he cashed in on every opportunity. Today, he might work for Goldman Sachs.
The production credits are kaleidoscopic, with many contributors noted in the program. Of special note should be the fine orchestra, conducted with passion by Brian Eads.
Like a hyacinth drawn across your cheek in the dark of night by your lover, LES MISERABLES with its fragrance of despair, zephyrs of nobility, and thrilling transcendence will haunt you for days afterward and beyond.
[Academy of Music] January 9-21, 2018; kimmelcenter.org