Vive la national tour of ‘Les Misérables’ at Playhouse Square
By Bob Abelman
“Les Misérables” – the epic musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel about the Paris Uprising of 1823 – has been running in London for 33 years. It enjoyed 8,202 performances during its Broadway premiere and has been seen by over 70 million people in productions in 44 countries. The 2012 star-studded film version of this musical earned an extraordinary $442,169,052 worldwide.
If there is anyone who has not yet heard the people sing, singing the song of angry men, rest assured that the touring production currently taking up residency at Playhouse Square is as good as it gets. And frequent fliers, who belt “24601” in the shower and attended the 2011 and 2013 tours when they swept through Cleveland, will not be disappointed.
“Les Mis” begins in 1815 with Frenchman Jean Valjean being released from a chain gang, where he has spent the past 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. Seeking spiritual redemption, he changes his name, becomes a wealthy business owner and mayor of a town, and raises the young daughter of a fired employee, Fantine, who died after becoming a prostitute out of desperation.
Years later, the country is in a state of revolution and Valjean and his daughter Cosette’s fates become intertwined with the young students leading the rebellion. All the while, Valjean is hunted by the obsessive and self-righteous Inspector Javert.
A 16-piece orchestra under Brian Eads’ supervision and a sizable ensemble who seem to understand the collective power of their voices, as directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, fill the Connor Palace Theatre with Claude-Michel Schönberg’s operatic music and Herbert Kretzmer’s extraordinary lyrics. All this is complemented with producer Cameron Mackintosh’s emotionally devastating storytelling.
This production is blessed with Nick Cartell as Valjean, whose gorgeous interpretation of “Bring Him Home” from the barricades – one of many money songs that keep audiences coming back time and time again – captures the performer’s remarkable ability to balance theatricality with authenticity.
Javert must be Valjean’s equal, physically and vocally, in order for the drama between them to be realistic and sustainable. Josh Davis nearly bests Cartell in both regards and his rendition of “Stars” and the character’s suicidal “Soliloquy” nearly steal the show.
Jillian Butler as Cosette, Joshua Grosso as Cosette’s romantic love interest, Marius, Matt Shingledecker as Enjolras, Paige Smallwood as Eponine, and Mary Kate Moore as Fantine – whose rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is the best I’ve ever heard – give passionate performances with solid vocals that are consistently captivating.
J. Anthony Crane as Thenardier and Allison Guinn as Madame Thenardier offer darker-than-usual portrayals despite their comedic antics, which adds an unexpected turn and actually works quite well.
Since the show’s 25th Anniversary tour, the glorious illusion of movement once produced by actors dramatically marching in place on a rotating turntable has been replaced by actors dramatically marching in place in front of rear projections of shifting images inspired by Hugo’s paintings.
The animation gives additional depth to the action, which is effective, though it does offer too much contrast to the many moments in the production where projections are not employed.
Still, this is a lovely production of “Les Misérables.” The men are still angry. They are still singing. And hearing them for the first time or once again will most certainly be memorable. CV
Touring ‘Les Misérables’ at Playhouse Square
WHERE: Connor Palace Theatre, 1511 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
WHEN: Through Nov. 18
TICKETS & INFO: $39-$149, call 216-241-6000 or visit playhousesquare.com
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Nov. 9, 2018.
Lead image: Josh Davis, left, as Inspector Javert and Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean | Photo / Matthew Murphy