by MIKE CHAIKEN
“Les Miserables” is one of those shows that really doesn’t have a revival because there never seems to be a moment where it’s not being performed somewhere.
Even if it’s not a national tour, some community theater group has taken it on.
So it’s understandable when a road tour arrives in town of the venerable musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel, there might be a slight sigh of “Oh no, not that again.”
Well, strike that thought from your mind regarding to the current national tour that opened at The Bushnell in Hartford, Tuesday, Oct. 3.
This is a reinvigorated “Les Miserables” that seems miles away from its original pop/ rock musical origins in Paris and London.
The story of “Les Miserables” is epic. The book itself would kill a small rodent with its heft.
This production plays off that epic feel. This production at times is less Broadway and more opera. This feel is grounded by the lighting, stage, and costumes that have more emotional heft.
Although the trapping of the stage show are impressive, the strength of this show is the performances of those on stage and in the orchestra pit.
Nick Cartel, as the hero Jean Valjean, was the linchpin of the show. He showed incredible vocal range and immense emotional range of the man who tries to make amends for a small sin in his past. Since the character is so central to the action, Cartel’s performance pushes the entire cast to keep up with him. And they all deliver. My favorite moment, and one that demonstrated Cartel’s vocal range, was the song, “Bring Him Home.”
Marius (Joshua Grosso), who played the young man wooing Valjean’s ward Cosette, may have lacked the stage time of Cartel. But like Cartel, he demonstrated great vocal alacrity and emotional. His performance “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was touching.
The character of the dogged Javert, who chases Valjean across the decades, sometimes slips into one dimension. He is played as a man with an obsession but an obsession that merely serves as a plot device. In this production, actor Josh Davis was able to convey some of the inner conflict of the man wants to bring Valjean to justice but is conflicted about doing so.
Thenardier, the innkeeper at the center of the iconic song, “Master of the House,” also tends to be portrayed as one-dimensional. He is a clown and a bit of comic relief. But Monte J. Howell is able to portray the character as more nefarious—he plays the clown but he has a serious and evil bite.
The lead female characters in “Les Miserables” have considerably less stage time than their male counterparts. But their shining moments carry the biggest emotional punches.
Phoenix Best’s performance of Eponine’s “On My Own” was poignant and touching. It was probably one of the most powerful moments of the evening.
Melissa Mitchell’s performance of Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” also caused our heart to melt.
Years ago when I saw “Les Miserables,” most of the instrumentation was handled by electronic keyboards. For this tour, the music is handled by a full blown orchestra, conducted and directed by Brian Eads. The live performance of the music brought power and an epic quality to the orchestrations of John Cameron and Cristopher Janke.
The music is one thing but the acting is also key for “Les Miserables. The direction by Laurence Connor and James Powell was fleet footed compared to some productions I’ve seen, which sometimes lumbered under the breadth of the tale.
Over the years, the show by composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer, based on the original French show by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel—had made itself ripe for parody and ennui.
This tour puts the show back into the realm of classic musical theater.
I give this national tour production of “Les Miserables” four out of four stars.
It continues at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
For tickets, go to Bushnell.org or call (860) 987-5900