By: Sandi Durell
There’s nothing like a revival of a huge hit to cause great eruptions of cheers and applause from a multi-age audience that seems to thrive on political upheaval, looming darkness and love. The 1980s French Revolution has returned home to the Imperial Theatre on Broadway with its stamp of social significance or, as they say, always relevant theme. This time, however, Victor Hugo’s 19thC novel, has a new production with music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer (original French text: Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel).
The operetta-like musical is a mixed-bag of goodies and . . . not such goodies – the casting sometimes awkward. The high points of this mega production are the looming darkness and London’s Ramin Karimloo as prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean, the runaway fugitive from slave labor, whose powerful strength physically and vocally place him in the star quality category in his Broadway debut. He is endlessly pursued by Inspector Javert (equally persuasive brooder and vocal artiste, Will Swenson), his rendition of “Stars” more than memorable.
As Valjean soars with the difficult “Bring Him Home,” there’s little doubt he may also bring home a Tony with this charismatic and riveting performance.
There is no turntable set this time but well conceived designs, including the barricade, by Matt Kinley, accompanied by the more recent use of video projections seen on Broadway stages, by Fifty-Nine Productions, (finely accomplished as Valjean drags and carries the almost lifeless body of Marius (Andy Mientus) thru the tunnels and sewers of Paris.
Strong highlights revolve around the caricature, over-the-top portrayals by Keala Settle (who won 2013 Tony, Drama Desk, OCC Noms for ‘Hands on a Hardbody’) as Madame Thénardier, who captures every facial and physical nuance, alongside her equally comic sidekick Cliff Saunders as Thénardier. Their bawdy romp through “Master of the House” will neary be forgotten! The well designed costumes are by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland.
Cassie Levy plays the soon to die Fantine who has taken to the streets as a prostitute to support her child Cosette (Samantha Hill) who is eventually rescued from the horrors of poverty by Valjean, as he now presents himself to the world as the Town Mayor and factory-owner, fulfilling his promise to the dying Fantine that he will care for her child. The role of Eponine is played by Nikki M. James (Tony Award, Book of Mormon).
As Fantine, Levy is soft and gentle as she sings “I Dreamed a Dream” but on her deathbed, almost inaudible. Samantha Hill has a lovely soprano and does well as Cosette. My question marks in casting, however, have to do with the pop voices of both Andy Mientus and Nikki M. James who make valiant attempts to keep up vocally, but can’t.
The imposing numbers that dig deep “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “One More Day” carry their magic forth with flag flying momentum. And lest I forget, little Gavroche (Gaten Matarazzo on Wed. eve.) is spunky adorable!
Looks like the magical “Les Miz,” directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, shall rule again.
Presented by Cameron Mackintosh at the Imperial Theater, 249 West 45th Street, NYC 212-239-6200, telecharge.com. Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes.