Tuesday night we drove to the Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo to check out the 25th Anniversary Tour of one of the last centuries most enduring theatrical phenomenon.
“Les Miserables” was written by French author Victor Hugo in 1862. It was in five volumes. Since 1934 it has been the subject, in various adaptations, of nine feature films, including the cinematic version of the Broadway musical which opened to mixed reviews on Christmas Day.
With music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, the Cameron Macintosh production (clocking in at close to three hours) seems, like its fellow blockbuster “The Phantom of the Opera,” destined to be the show that will never close.
And after another look, at least my fifth at various productions from professional to high school, I have to say rightly so.
This “anniversary” presentation, however, obviously needed something different to warrant mounting another full-scale production. The “difference” was the elimination of the original’s most unique scenic innovations — the turntable.
Filling almost the entire center stage, it facilitated the flow of one scene into another, much as the powerful score shifted focus on locales and characters with changing musical themes.
The anniversary show has opted for projections of paintings by Hugo which fill the center of the stage, flanked by two-story towers which served as entrances to various locations and a number of large set pieces (i.e the iron gate to Jean Valjean’s final home and the barricade) which roll on and off as needed.
They work, of course, but have made this production like any big Broadway show and I, for one, really missed the impressive and effective flow supplied by the turntable. (Have to say that seeing bodies stacked in a cart is much less effective dramatically than watching the barricade slowly turn to reveal the fallen students still clinging to its crude construction, even in death). Sorry, but it’s all about theatrical impact.
That said, seeing “Les Miserables” on it’s original home — THE STAGE — and hearing the stirring score sung by obviously excellent and well-trained voices with lush and moving instrumental support from a FULL ORCHESTRA (something almost unheard of in this day of two keyboards and a drum), it was easy to understand why this show SHOULD be seen in this setting, with or without turntable.
The names of the outstanding cast, which is very large, are not well known here but one look at the impressive program bios, which list only a small portion of each individual’s work-to-date, and there is no doubt that the company IS this show.
Must cite Peter Lockyer (Jean Valjean), whose transformation from bitter thief to loving father is the lynchpin on which the story turns, and Andrew Varela (Javert), the single-minded policeman whose dogged pursuit of Valjean proves his own undoing. Each man has, in the course of the evening, a number of dramatic and difficult solos, plus equally demanding dramatic sequences. They could not have been better suited and deserved the spontaneous cheers which followed eac.
Fantine (Geneviieve Leclerc) and Eponine (Briana Carlson-Goodman) scored solidly as ladies who loved and lost, as did the dastardly Theniardiers (Shawna M. Hamric and Timothy Gulan), who, like the cockroach, survive everything, and students led by Enjolras (Jason Forbach) and Marius (Devin Ilaw). There are too many others in the large ensemble to list. Enough to say that each does his/her own part in bringing “Les Miserables” to life yet again.
Go see the movie if you want. The stage is where this musical really lives, and for a lot longer than “One Day More”!
“LES MISERABLES” plays in Miller Auditorium at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, through Sunday. Curtain times vary. Ticket prices range from 38 to $78 but are available for 50 percent off seats remaining for Friday matinee. Call (269)387-2300 or (800) 228-9858.