by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Boublil and Schonberg legendary musical “Les Misérables” is on stage at the Times-Union Center through Sunday, May 6. Victor Hugo’s classic story is about parole-breaking convict Jean Valjean, who was jailed for stealing a loaf of bread to give to his sister’s family. He tries to bury his past but is chased for years by the relentless police inspector Javert. After Valjean becomes a successful factory owner and a respected mayor, he befriends an abused young prostitute and winds up as the guardian of Cosette, her young daughter. The final dramatic act is centered around the failure of a student uprising in Paris (in 1832) and the romance of Cosette and Marius, one of the revolutionaries.
Americans are accustomed to seeing “new and improved” on products for purchase, but how, you ask, can “Les Miz” be improved? After all, the musical, which debuted in 1985, has been produced in 43 countries in 21 different languages and has been seen by over 60 million people, which attests to its popularity in its original form.
The Dual Critics are excited to announce the production does indeed succeed in bringing a new and fresh perspective to the work. The story, of course, remains the same. What has changed? The revolving turntable stage is gone, and the new sets incorporate projected video backgrounds, using Victor Hugo’s own original paintings. Many of the backgrounds are atmospheric and at times enigmatic depictions of scenes that would have been familiar to Hugo and his French characters, although in the scene where Valjean is being chased in the Paris sewer, a view of the tunnel walls encloses the running men realistically.
We have read that the music has been reorchestrated, but not being experts in this field we won’t comment. The magnificent score with all its famous solos is as captivating as ever, in fact it is the music that propelled and made this the most popular musical of all time. No matter where you sit in the TU Center you will hear even the quietest solo. Sound systems have improved immensely since the early versions came through Jacksonville some years ago, and you will notice this immediately. Additionally, this is a high-volume production.
The costumes are authentic reflections of the era and milieu. Of note, while those who are desperately poor are in rags, the revolutionaries wear trousers and shirts with tricolor belts, and the guests at Cosette’s wedding are in colorful formal wear.
The talented cast gives its all and received the most enthusiastic standing ovation we have ever seen. To point out individual excellence in the roles would be to repeat the entire cast list. The show runs just shy of three hours including the intermission and is very fast-paced; the new staging makes swift scene changes possible. This version of “Les Miz” is loaded with incredibly excellent voices in all the roles. If you have never seen this musical, by all means don’t miss it. Although the subject matter sounds dark and is dark in portions, you will find the final act stirring and inspiring and will leave the theatre totally awed.
Dream the dream, see “Les Misérables
Good seats are still available for all performances, evenings and matinees, through Sunday, May 6th. Charge by phone at 904-632-3373 or online at artistseriesjax.org.
LES MISERABLES: THE NEW 25TH ANNIVERSARY PRODUCTION
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM