Les Miserables Keeps Reinventing Itself

 

Les Miserables. Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean. Photo Credit Catherine Ashmore (4)

Photo: Catherine Ashmore

 

 

 

 

by: Miriam Spritzer

 

 

The revival of Les Miserables, currently running on Broadway, has been a true treat for its fans when it comes to the casting of the lead character Jean Valjean. First Ramin Karimloo amazed audiences with his interpretation of the role, and now, the newcomer to the cast is no one less then Alfie Boe. The renowned tenor is already known and dear to Les Mis fans for playing the role on the 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2 Arena in London along side with Karimloo who played Enjorlas in the concert.

 
When reviewing a show like Les Miserables, which has been in productions worldwide for almost 30 years and is well known to the public, it is very difficult not to compare it to previous productions and performances including the movie. Personally, as a big fan of the musical, it is quite a challenging task to review this production on it’s own.

For those not entirely familiar with the premise, let me first give you a synopsis. It is based on Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables which tells the epic journey of Jean Valjean, an ex-prisioner in 19th Century France, struggling to survive the difficulties of the time, doing good and being honorable. In his quest for redemption, Valjean deals with the constant threat of being arrested by policeman Javert, whose beliefs are challenged by Valjean’s actions as well as the outcome of a a revolutionary time in the country. The show’s original production opened on Broadway in 1987, and this is it’s second revival. It is famously known for songs like “On My Own,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” “One Day More,” among others. The show’s creative team includes producer Cameron Mackintosh, composer Claude-Michel Schönberg lyricist Alain Boublil and librettist Herbert Kretzmer.T

This new revival, in comparison to the original Broadway production and first revival, is definitely a re-imagined version of the show. While the first two requested the audience to fill in the gaps using their imagination, the new version is a “cinematographic” spectacle aided by projections and more realistic sets.

From the first time I saw this particular production on Broadway last year, there were some noticeable changes in direction and even lyrics. I believe some of the lyric changes were made in order to adapt to an audience that had since become familiar with the piece through the movie version.

The production last year had a rushed pace to the show. Everything was so hurried, even the dialogue; it almost looked like that they were rushing to get the show completed by 10:30 pm. That aspect has improved this time around, as most of the dialogue is now done in tandem with the pace of the music. However it would still be nice to have those 2 seconds after the big numbers like “I Dreamed a Dream,”  “Who am I,” etc. to let it sit and settle in with the audience for a bit.

Alfie Boe’s live performance as Valjean is as amazing as the recording. He has a stunning vocal technique allowing him to reach the soft high notes of “Bring Him Home” perfectly, as well as giving intensity to songs like “One Day More” and “Who am I.”  He is very familiar with the role, which I believe helps him to transition through Valjean’s different stages and emotions, bringing a very human quality to the character.

Montego Glover’s Fantine is very interesting. Having known her performances for more modern roles, I was curious to see how she would bring Fantine to life. Glover is very expressive and has a charisma that allows the audience to join her in the journey of her character. And although I don’t think “I Dreamed a Dream,” the character’s main song, showed the best of her vocal qualities, I was pleasantly surprised with her beautiful soft vocals during her dying scene, “Come to Me.”

Earl Carpenter is a seasoned Javert having interpreted the role in different productions, with a beautiful baritone making a great contrast to Boe’s voice in the dialogues. He also clearly shows the different stages of Javert, from certainty to doubt.

As for the other leads in the show, I’d like to highlight Gavin Lee’s Thenardier –  a true scene-stealer. He managed to be incredibly funny without being silly which allowed the audience to understand the seriousness of Thenardier’s distorted mind. This is a particularly tricky character because, at the same time that it is the comical relief of the story, it also portrays a very serious role in the narrative.

Les Miserables is currently playing at the Imperial Theatre, 249 W 45th St, New York, NY‎ – (212) 239-6200‎ www.lesmis.com/broadway

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