By Edward Douglas
Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption – a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. The magnificent score includes the classic songs “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Stars,” “Bring Him Home,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” “One Day More,” “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” “Master of the House” and many more.
How in the world do you review a production that has been performed millions of times in theatres around the world and come up with new superlatives?
There is a reason that Les Misérables has been around since 1985: dynamic music, compelling storytelling, sensational staging, extraordinary drama…the pure energy and magic of the theatre in full display. And that is what a full house of theatre-goers saw at Thalia Mara Hall on the opening night of an unprecedented Jackson run of seven performances. Seven performances translate to about 14,280 available seats…and you should certainly endeavor to be in one of them before this extraordinary production leaves town.
A cast of 38, a 16-piece orchestra (that sounds like triple that!), and a backstage crew of (I guess) dozens considering the effortless staging, bring it all together in a production that is effervescent and forceful, at times absolutely soaring. Half of the audience seemed to have seen it on stage somewhere before, thrilled at the chance to experience it again; and, though I have seen the film version and have been listening to the Original Cast album (then the CD) for 30 years, this was my first Les Miz experience, as well as my first visit to Thalia Mara in some time.
The score is full of familiar and loved melodies that you will instantly recognize, with musical motifs that recur throughout. I can’t say enough about the orchestra: they were frankly the heart of this production, always clear and nuanced, supporting both the actors and the story, eliciting emotion measure after measure. I have heard a lot over the years about the thin acoustics of the auditorium, but sound was never a concern with this production, the full dimension of the music reverberated, rich and lively, throughout the Hall.
Every one of the performers, from the little people to the oldest among them, were in fine form. Their energy was infectious, their comraderie evident, and it flowed, easily and engrossing, from the stage to audience. Theirs were remarkable voices, only occasionally lost in projection and clarity…and maybe a little weariness (which can only be expected in the midst of a two-year tour). Each of the most striking of the production’s numbers were rendered with touch and power… and while so much of the music seems to be painted in rich baritone and alto registers, the soprano and tenor voices, solo and chorus, over and again sent the numbers to their most chilling and stirring.
The production was remarkable to behold. I have always heard about the turntable productions: the sets mounted on multiple moving platforms, a swiveling jigsaw puzzle of movement, creating scene after scene. This production’s impressive grand sets glided in and out effortlessly, backed by some fascinating and evocative media projection, drawn from the scetches of the author Victor Hugo. And time after time the staging was reminiscent of the vibrant paintings of the great French artist Eugène Delacroix. If I can find any fault in this production, it would be in the lighting, which was at times a little too dark. But that just could have been my old eyes…
Les Misérables has been billed as “The Musical Phenomenon.” This world tour production certainly lives up to the billing.
Thalia Mara Hall
Tuesday, March 5, 2019