The Orpheum celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Broadway hit "Les Miserables" with a revamping of the production. In local press the show has garnered one rave review and two solidly mixed reviews. But the observation I found the most interesting had nothing to do with the artistic merits of the production. William Randall Beard ended his review with this comment:
I adore Les Misérables, but it encompasses an uncomfortable contradiction. It's a story that advocates radical social change, but plays to audiences able to afford tickets over $100. I wonder if in all the music and theatrics, the true revolutionary message isn't obscured or lost.
Interesting question - what do you think?
Ethics aside, here's what the critics thought of the reworked show:
Photo by Deen van Meer
The spectacle is intact, and even enhanced by the cunning use of projections inspired by Hugo's paintings, but the production takes the story very seriously. Amidst all the pageantry, it captures the heart of Hugo's novel, which is a story of Christian redemption. This is a serious take on God and the nature of salvation, and the production embraces it in deeply personal and emotional ways.
If only the performances had been directed with the same finesse as the production. There is a lack of subtlety across the board. Try as he might, J. Mark McVey could not fully realize the character of Valjean. His voice did not encompass the full range of the role, but even worse, his performance was so stagey and mannered that it was off-putting. He also lacked the kind of charisma the character needs to command the stage.
...what remains is what has been the glory of the show to its legions of fans - its sweeping, unapologetic and...yes...baldly manipulative plea to the heartstrings and the sense of justice and right. As my 15-year-old theater-going companion opined after one of the show's many stirring, orchestra-swelling and vocal-chord-melting anthems - "a little melodramatic, isn't it?"
This new staging of "Les Miserables" is neither a revolution nor a revelation. But, solidly built and well-executed, it is at least a breath of fresh air.
Andrew Varela as Javert
Photo by Deen van Meer
If you are not already a devotee of the musical composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, this robust new version by director James Powell and Laurence Connor should make you one. The re-orchestrated music is delivered with clarity and verve thanks to conductor Robert Billig. (It sometimes is a bit loud as well.) The story, which orbits themes of justice and redemption, idealism and death, and, of course, love, is much more cleanly told.... The best part of this production is the cast.
"Les Miserables" runs through December 18 at The Orpheum in Minneapolis.
Ah, yes! Beard says "the spectacle is intact," and still he finds something(s) to carp about to a lesser or greater degree. So, should the producers have put less cost and overhead into the show, and charged less for it, so folks could carp even more because it wasn't done right? These things cost money. Who is supposed to pay for it? Did reviewer Beard even pay for his ticket? Reading these review excerpts, I have a feeling that no one who paid anything to attend found "the true revolutionary message" to be obscured or lost. Life is filled with contradictions with which one has to deal, and this is among the least of them.
I took my wife last night and we both had a wonderful time, and she is a Les Mis addict. Tickets are pricey, but as an educator, I was able to get rush tickets for $20. Students could too.
Unlike these reviewers, we were both very impressed with the production. The visual effects and set design were very striking. I'm not sure which Valjean the reviewers witnessed, but J. Mark McVey's performance, especially of "Bring Him Home", was superb and earned him uproarious applause from the audience.
Methinks these reviewers just like to feel like they are the "Masters of the House", and are desperately clinging to the older productions. I can't recommend this new production enough.