Cast delivers heartfelt emotion in 'Les Miserables'


More than 65 million people can’t be wrong.

So, if you’re among the legions of card-carrying “Les Miserables” fanatics, you’ll welcome the 25th-anniversary tour of the venerable musical (at The Smith Center through Sunday) with overflowing hearts — and, perhaps, overflowing eyes.

A few of us, however, are less susceptible to the charms of the Tony-winning pop opera.

Based on Victor Hugo’s sprawling 1862 novel of 19th-century France, the sung-through “Les Mis” traces the 17-year journey of protagonist Jean Valjean (a big-voiced, but rather blank, Peter Lockyer) from suffering to salvation.

Along the way, he encounters an array of all-too-human characters who transform his life, as he transforms theirs.

There’s implacable Inspector Javert (a harsh, intermittently haunted Andrew Varela), who relentlessly shadows Valjean. Doomed factory girl Fantine (impressively desperate Genevieve Leclerc), whose daughter Cosette (winsome Lauren Wiley) becomes Valjean’s ward — and raison d’etre. And starry-eyed Marius (an ardent Devin Ilaw), a student activist who captures Cosette’s heart — and inspires Valjean to embrace his destiny with faith and fortitude.

To say nothing of the huddled masses — tormented chain-gang prisoners, wretched prostitutes, thieving schemers, wily street urchins — he encounters along the way.

This production relates its epic tale in strikingly reimagined fashion, using Hugo’s own impressionistic paintings as inspiration for cinematically shifting backdrops.

By eliminating the original’s trademark crush-of-fate turntable, this “Les Mis” seems engineered on a more human scale, its characters at least as important as the sets surrounding them.

But all the redesigns and reorchestrations in the world won’t, and don’t, change the show’s essential nature.

With characters who emerge more as symbols than as living, breathing beings, “Les Mis” often plays like a series of static pageant tableaus.

It’s no coincidence that many of the show’s most beloved songs — the poignant “I Dreamed a Dream,” the poignant “On My Own” and the (you guessed it) poignant “Bring Him Home” — are all solos, the characters sharing their innermost longings, in stand-and-deliver fashion, with the audience rather than each other.

There’s nothing much co-directors James Powell (who staged the show’s 25th-anniversary London concert) and Laurence Connor can do about that — other than to keep things moving, which they do, inexorably.

And without spoken dialogue, the nonstop score — by the French team of composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and librettist-lyricist Alain Boublil, with English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer— carries a greater narrative burden.

“Les Mis’ ” opening-night sound mix was somewhat muddy in spots, with music director Lawrence Goldberg’s stalwart orchestra almost overpowering some of the performers. Audience members undoubtedly would have been happy to sing along. (Even those new to “Les Mis” could have joined in, given the lack of variety in Schonberg’s stirring but repetitive score.)

But please, leave the singing to the cast members, who deliver the goods in rousing fashion, wringing every ounce of achingly earnest emotion from the beloved songs.

Most welcome (at least to some of us) are those who operate outside the show’s halo of heartfelt idealism, notably the lovelorn, loyal Eponine (a touchingly conflicted Briana Carlson-Goodman). As for the larcenous Thenardiers, the shameless Timothy Gulan and Shawna M. Hamic might as well be wearing flashing “Comedy Relief” signs around their necks.

Not exactly subtle, but “Les Mis” isn’t about subtle.

It wears its overflowing heart on its sleeve. Whether yours overflows in response depends, of course, on your perspective.

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

 

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