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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 19, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 33
Les Miserables boasts great voices, but little draw for veterans
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Les Miserables boasts great voices, but little draw for veterans

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Les Miserables
5th Avenue Theatre
Through August 27


A huge sprawling epic of a musical at breakneck speed - that's one of the main impressions from the touring production of Les Miserables currently at the 5th Avenue Theatre. It's chock full of amazing voices and new gee-whiz technical elements (primarily projection animation) that are, at times, breathtaking.

This production is missing a signature staging element that some count as a necessity: a gigantic turntable which allows the set to rotate so one can see both a front and a back. But if you have never seen the show, even on television, you won't miss it.

For those who are new to the classic Victor Hugo book and now 25-year-old classic musical, this tale is told over many years about Jean Valjean (a mellifluous J. Mark McVey) who steals some bread and ends up a French prisoner for 19 years. Upon his release, he is dogged almost maliciously by Inspector Javert (the booming Andrew Varela), who warns him that he'll be back in prison soon. After stealing some silver from a bishop but gaining a reprieve to become a better man, time jumps forward as he becomes mayor and a prosperous businessman.

A factory girl, Fantine (Betsy Morgan, outstanding in both singing and acting), is thrown out of Valjean's factory due to jealousy. When he finds her sick and dying, and realizes his part in her downfall, he pledges to take in her daughter, Cosette, from the horrid Thenardiers, whom she is boarded with. Then time jumps again, to a mini-Parisian revolution in 1832. Cosette meets young Marius, a student involved in the uprising, and Valjean endeavors to save him so they can be together. Even as Valjean comes to the end of his days, the musical promises that Cosette and Marius will have a happy life together.

The 25th anniversary revival includes some wonderfully talented young actors (opening night's Juliana Simone as Young Cosette and clearly star-in-the-making Colin DePaula as Gavroche) and scene-stealing Thenardiers (Michael Kostroff and understudy Beth Kirkpatrick). Justin Scott Brown as Marius acquits himself well, and Jeremy Hays as Enjolras stands out from the ensemble of men. Jenny Latimer as Cosette is a bit too jejune and her voice a bit too quavering, even for the ingénue role.

Chasten Harmon as Eponine Thenardier, the daughter, has a wonderful voice, and is part of a long tradition of colorblind casting in this particular role. However, it was so hard to see any other actor of color in this production that it ended up being jarring to have the young girl be so 'white' and then change so visually. One has to wonder why 1832 France has to be so white to begin with, given the hundreds or thousands of talented singer/actors to choose from.

Overall, there is a lack of emotional connection. It is hard to determine if it is because of the breakneck speed with which singers had to deliver their songs, but they are directed to belt a lot, even in the middle of tender ballads. There are a couple of moments that connect, but very little connection when most of the ensemble gets shot during the rebellion. The one moment that the turntable was very useful for - when young Gavroche pushes to the front of the barricade to confront the attackers and is killed - is heard rather than seen, muting this potential powerful event.

Since it's a major touring production with some of the best voices and technical values you're likely to see, it's worth seeing this version if you have never seen the show. Those who know the musical well may end up being disappointed.

More information about tickets is available at 206-625-1900 or www.5thavenue.org.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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