by MIKE CHAIKEN
“Les Miserables,” the stage musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, always was an epic and grand show.
But over time, any epic and grand show can become bloated and overwrought. The earnestness of “Les Miserables,” which is celebrating 33 years, developed into pomposity. Its grandiosity invited parody.
“Les Miserables” became a punchline to a joke, something which its creators had never intended.
But the creative team behind the current touring production of the Claude Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer musical have sucked out the bloating. They deflated the pomposity.
Instead they have successfully retooled the show, placing the focus on the humanity of the story rather than providing an audience with a theatrical roller coaster ride full of thrills and spills.
Mind you, the production that stopped into the Palace Theatre in Waterbury on Dec. 3 is still big. There are still chunks of architecture moving in and out of the set. There is still a barricade in Paris that stretches the stage. And there is a cast larger than some towns in northern Vermont.
But somehow, the show feels more intimate. We are sucked into the journeys of the characters not the shock-and-awe stage trickery.
The key to the success of the show is its cast.
From the brilliant leads to the strong ensemble work, this touring production is top notch.
As Jean Valjean, Nick Cartell provides us with a gentle soul who is condemned again and again because of his compassion. Cartell commands the audience’s attention with a voice, effortless and true, that easily handles the power of the defiant “Soliloquy” as well as the touching and tender, “Bring Him Home.”
Valjean’s nemesis, Jalbert, on the night I saw the show was actually played by the understudy Andrew Maughan. Maughan made the most of his night under the spotlight by wowing me with the power physically and vocally that he imbued into the dogged inspector seeking to bring Valjean to justice.
Phoenix Best was superb as Eponine. Her performance of the classic “On My Own” was one of the highlights of the evening.
Jillian Butler as Cossette and Joshua Grosso as the student Marius the young lovers were delightful. I adored the youthful, innocent, and giddy romance they were able to invoke.
Mary Kate Moore was absolutely stunning as Fantine. Her performance of “I Dreamed A Dream” effectively proclaimed that this tour of “Les Miserables” had found its humanity.
Directors Laurence Connor and James Powell also managed the feat of making a long show that historical veered into ponderous, seem nimble and breezy (well as breezy as a Victor Hugo novel can be).
I give “Les Miserables” at The Palace Theatre, Waterbury on Dec. 3 four out of five stars.
“Les Miserables” continues at The Palace on Thursday, Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m.