Les MisérablesPosted: December 3, 2014
Well, it’s definitely better than the movie.
Okay readers, I’m warning you now – there will be plot spoilers in this review. So if for some reason you don’t know the plot of Les Misérables and wish to remain in the dark, you may have to skip this blog post. Don’t know Les Miz and want to? Watch the 10th Anniversary Concert; that’s the best way to get introduced. Not the Russell Crowe movie, not the Claire Danes movie, not the 25th Anniversary Concert – the 10th Anniversary Concert featuring the best of the best which aired on TV in 1996 (and which I then watched religiously for the next ten years).
Anyway, if it’s not clear from the above, I grew up with this musical. I saw the original three times on Broadway and twice in London and was honestly nervous to see this new production. The last revival I skipped because I heard it was a mess (despite Lea Salonga’s return). This one is far from a mess. I enjoyed quite a lot of it, but of course, I can’t help but have mixed feelings. Admittedly, this may be one of those cases of how can something ever beat the original. Regardless, here’s a look at where I stand on the newest Broadway revival of Les Misérables (click here for clips).
Things I Liked:
Caissie Levy can sang. Yes, she has more of a pop voice than we might be used to for Fantine, but it’s still nice to sit back and not have to worry that notes won’t be hit. Caissie can do those notes in her sleep.
Ramin Karimloo. Damn. I’d heard wonderful things but remained on edge for the first 20 minutes or so. Early on he had the tendency to be a little bit sharp, but that soon faded. This guy has a very powerful voice from his strong belt to his gorgeous falsetto (and apparently he’s never trained which is just crazy given his sound). Plus it doesn’t hurt that he’s a mighty fine specimen to look at.
Cosette. Now there’s a surprise. I have never liked Cosette. She’s underwritten and basically only there to serve the plot of the characters around her. Growing up however, my reasons weren’t as advanced (I just wanted to hate the pretty blonde who got the guy). But Samantha Hill’s voice floats up in those higher octaves in such a way that I actually didn’t mind the character as much. How I wish she had been in the movie instead of Amanda Seyfried.
Gavroche. Albeit I don’t know if I’ve ever not liked Gavroche. He’s always played by such a charming little kid. For his final scene, I am partial to the staging of the original production; the new one feels a little self-indulgent.
“Bring Him Home.” As I mentioned above, Ramin has a beautiful falsetto, and he does not disappoint on arguably one of the best songs/moments in the show. Everything in this epically enormous show gets dialed down for these few minutes, and you’re left with this one man singing his heartbreaking plea.
Things I Didn’t Like:
Marius. Sorry. I wasn’t into him. Andy Mientus is talented, but no one will ever top Michael Ball for me. Both the 12-year-old and 30-year-old in me will forever think his voice is the dreamiest.
Wow, my attention span is not what it used to be. No matter what other shows come along, Les Miz will have a place in my heart, but man, is that a long first act. It takes so long to get to the meat of the story. It’s possible I was super conscious of the pacing because I was there with Matt who was seeing it for the first time, and I was nervous that it might be too slow for his taste. I think he enjoyed it though!
The Thenardiers. I knowwww. I like both those actors, but the approach/direction didn’t feel right to me. They were dark, scary characters, and that’s fine! Still though, we crave that comic relief in this beast of a musical. We need laughs desperately, but “Master of the House” was just another tune passing by.
Things I’m Mixed About:
Projections are a big part of the set design, but I can’t comment on their use because I was sitting very far house right and could only see pieces of them. I wish I could have seen if they were effective or not.
I like Nikki M. James (Eponine) a lot. She was the heart of The Book of Mormon (for which she won a Tony), and I also got to see her at NYTW last year in Fetch Clay, Make Man. And her big note in “On My Own” was indeed chill-worthy, but I fear she might be miscast. I don’t think her singing voice matches the style of this music. It’s not a good fit to my ear.
For the most part I didn’t miss the turntable. I did my best to go in with an open mind knowing how different the staging would be without this iconic design. Sorry though – the barricades simply aren’t as impressive as they once were without them spinning around with Enjolras hanging off the back atop the red flag. That was the image of Les Miz. Now he’s in the same position…in a wheelbarrow.
During the performance, I finally came to understand something that has been bothering me for as long as I can remember. It always dug at me that Fantine got to come back in the end in her beautiful white dress while Eponine was still stuck in her poor get-up. Why did Fantine get to be all ghostly and Eponine so dirty? But this time, for absolutely no reason at all, it clicked that the white dress is literally what Fantine dies in. It’s her hospital gown. Mystery solved! She wasn’t being favored by costume designers across the world! Is it just me? Am I the only weirdo who wondered about this?
In closing, if you’re already a fan of the musical and feel the desire to see it again, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by the newest revival. If you’ve never seen the show? This is a pretty reliable way to experience it live. Again though, you’re talking to the girl who was once a toddler bouncing around the house singing what I thought were the lyrics to the opening number: “Up down, up down, up down up down up down.”
I know, I’m a natural.
Music by Claude-Michel Schöenberg, Book by Alan Boublil, Lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, Adapted by Trevor Nunn and John Caird, Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell
Imperial Theatre, Open-ended
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
Pictured: Ramin Karimloo