Theater Review: LES MISÉRABLES (National Tour)

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by Tony Frankel on September 20, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Tours


Unlike most of the characters in the blockbuster sung-through musical Les Misérables, the show itself will never die. Consistently presented either on Broadway, national tours, and globally since the English-language version opened on the West End in 1985, audiences can’t get enough of Victor Hugo’s story about ex-con and do-gooder Jean Valjean and his righteous long-arm-of-the-law pursuer, Javert. With a speedy 3-hour running time, the rousing anthems, heartbreaking ballads, delicious characters right out of Dickens, and compelling storytelling—from Valjean’s paroling to the Paris Uprising of 1832—prove that modern audiences and millennials do indeed have an attention span if the material is great.

The Cast in "One Day More"
The Cast in "Beggars at the Feast"

After that awful movie adaptation, another Les Miz found itself on Broadway in 2014. The National Tour which relaunched October 7 and opened last night at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa is a sleek new revival based on that production, the national tour of which was cut short by COVID in 2020. With dozens of roles, many of them major, and 30+ ensemble members, all of whom must sing spectacularly while negotiating hundreds of costume and wig changes, Les Miz is not an easy venture to undertake (costumes by Andreane Neofitou, additional costume designs by Christine Rowland and Paul Wills). This production directed by James Powell and Laurence Connor captures the revolutionary spirit in spades.

The Cast in "Master of the House"
Matt Crowle as Thénardier and Gregory Lee Rodriguez as Marius

Designed by Matt Kinley (inspired by the paintings of Hugo), and projections realized by Finn Ross, Jonathon Lyle, and Fifty Nine Productions, the turntable and multi-media spectacle of Broadway have been expunged, but — especially with Kinley’s massive barricade and the amazing lighting by Paule Constable — it is no less effective.

Preston Truman Boyd as Javert & Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean

Tara Rubin Casting has assembled the most important thing: singers. Some acted better than others, but the vocals blew me away, especially with Mick Potter‘s sound design, which makes the acoustically troubled theater feel intimate. I heard most every lyric.

Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean

The astounding Nick Cartell anchors the show as Valjean: His vocal abilities positively stunned with a powerful and resonant tenor, and his rendition of “Bring Him Home” was one of the most stirring on record — a lengthy and roaring ovation followed this poignant ballad (one of the few places in the show the audience gets a break to applaud).

Devin Archer as Enjolras

Other characters were portrayed as well as those on Broadway. Randy Jeter was the apotheosis of sanctity and strength as the Bishop who bestows silver candlesticks on Valjean as a way to keep him from a life of thievery. An impassioned and persuasive Devin Archer brought life to Enjolras, the leader of the revolutionaries with no backstory whatsoever (indeed, I don’t believe the character’s name is even mentioned in the show). Chicago actors Matt Crowle (Gentlemen’s Guide...) and Cristina Rose Hall (Wonderful Town) wisely don’t go over the top as Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, lowlifes who make Fagin from Oliver a candidate for Sainthood.

Christine Heesun Hwang as Éponine

Christine Heesun Hwang veered from that yodeling, pop-opera sound as Thénardier’s daughter Éponine, offering a lovely, straightforward teenager who is torn between unrequited love and a life of larceny. A real find was Henry Kirk as the Artful Dodger-like boy, Gavroche; it’s always thrilling to see a child actor powerful in voice who can do without cloying behavior. And as Valjean’s adopted daughter Cosette, who falls for the student revolutionary Marius, Addie Morales presented a clarity of tone that was astonishing. Haley Dortch as the good-girl-turned-prostitute Fantine (“I Dreamed a Dream”) scrunched three-hours of drama into her twenty-minute role, but wisely replaced that grand tortured-soul performance for damaged purity.

Haley Dortch as Fantine

Preston Truman Boyd has a booming voice and tall stature as Javert, but while compelling, he lacked character complexity. The only undistinguished performance came from Gregory Lee Rodriguez as Marius, the student revolutionary who falls for Cosette — he sounds fine and looks swell, but without dramatic intent, his songs didn’t always ratchet up to an emotional impact. His love songs, however, soar. And when he meets cute with Cosette, it’s a very winning moment. (Listen, spectators will have their own favorites in regards to characters and/or the actors portraying them; that’s yet another reason why people return and return again.)

Gregory Lee Rodriguez as Marius, Christine Heesun Hwang as Éponine,
Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean, Addie Morales as Cosette
Preston Truman Boyd as Javert

Updating John Cameron‘s original orchestrations, Stephen Matcalfe, Christopher Jahnke, and Stephen Brooker did wonders with a scaled-down 14-member orchestra (music supervision is by Stephen Brooker and James Moore. Credit for the vocals and band goes to Musical Director Brian Eads. With that damn terrific score brought to magnificence by Eads, it’s clear why Les Miz is, as the ad says, “Still the World’s Most Popular Musical.”

Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean and Gregory Lee Rodriguez as Marius

But the stars of the show really are creators Claude-Michel Schönberg (music), Herbert Kretzmer (English language libretto based on original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel), and James Fenton (additional material). And, of course, the adaptation by Trevor Nunn and John Caird. These gentlemen may have truncated and in some ways bastardized Hugo’s novel, but there must have been Divine Intervention because they found the beating heart of the universal human journey: the search for love in a world of injustice.

photos by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

National Tour
for dates and cities, visit Les Miz

Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa
ends on October 1, 2023
for tickets, call 714.556.2787 or visit SCFTA

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

JM September 25, 2023 at 10:18 am

Last year, when I was renewing my subscription to the Broadway in Hollywood series they offered an add-on of Les Miz. Having seen the show multitudinous times (London, Broadway, several tours) I decided I really didn’t need another trip to the French Revolution and didn’t get the tickets. Months later, once the show had opened at the Pantages, I was speaking to a friend of mine that works at the theater and he told me that this production of Les Miz ( now playing at the Segerstrom Center) was the best sung he had seen and that the production was amazing with a cast of over 30. This guy knows theater …so I broke down and bought a ticket. He was not exaggerating. The show was fantastic. Totally riveting. I was left breathless at the end. I immediately went and bought more tickets to one of the few remaining shows. I was disappointed I hadn’t discovered it earlier in the 2 month run so I could have seen it even more times. I highly recommend that if you live in Orange County or don’t mind the drive that you check out this Les Miz before it heads out of town. You’ll be happy you did!


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