Walking into the Orpheum on Tuesday night I had few, but high, expectations for the “Les Misérables” musical. There must be a reason that this musical is so iconic, created 35 years ago by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer.
I don’t have much experience with “Les Misérables” or the goliath book by Victor Hugo. All the information I knew came from the 2012 movie of the same title. That being so, I thoroughly enjoyed the live performance of this musical.
Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, “Les Misérables” tells a story of broken dreams, unrequited love, sacrifice, morality and redemption.
The story revolves around Jean Valjean (Patrick Dunn), prisoner 24601, finding his way in life after serving 19 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread. We see Valjean’s life unfold as he runs away from patrol, earning him a lifelong enemy – the strict and unyielding policeman Javert (Preston Truman Boyd).
Be sure to read the synopsis, because there are large jumps in time as we follow Valjean and the comprising company.
With the kindness from a benevolent bishop, Valjean is able to start anew with his life, eventually becoming a factory owner and mayor. That’s when we meet one of his factory workers, Fantine (Mary Kate Moore) and our hearts get broken.
It would almost be impossible not to be moved by “I Dreamed a Dream,” a song that captures the loss of innocence and the acute heartbreak that comes with it. Mary Kate Moore displays her excellent voice control in every moment.
Each song in the discography is powerful enough to stick in your memory like “Work Song,” “Who Am I,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “One Day More.” You could put the whole album on shuffle and be pleased with whatever pops up.
One of the songs that sparked my memory was “Master of the House,” which provided a break in the doom and gloom. The duplicitous innkeepers, Thénardier (Jimmy Smagula) and Madame Thénardier (Beth Kirkpatrick) add a taste of hilarity that the show needs. Both of the actors were perfect in their comedy roles.
Other stand-out performances include Cosette (Jillian Bulter) and Éponine (Phoenix Best). Both women grew up together and yet in adulthood meet very different fates. At the same time, they have very similar tastes, falling in love with the same man, a student named Marius (Joshua Grosso).
On stage, Joshua Grosso with his charisma, singing talent and a head full of ringlet curls reminds me of Darren Criss.
Not only does Grosso have incredible vocal abilities, but he also makes humorous use of small asides while professing Marius’s love to Cosette during “Heart Full of Love.” It allows him to convey himself as slightly awkward, making his love for Cosette feel more genuine. The subtle additions allow the audience to understand why Cosette falls in love with him (as the audience falls for him, too).
The staging and set design in the show is best shown off during the barricade scenes featuring the band of students, including Marius and led by Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker). The construction of the barricade appears to have an assortment of materials like wagon wheels and chairs stacked on top of each other.
The flash of lights and booming sounds of gunfire immerses you into the battle immediately.
However, the impact of the fight is expressed during “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” The staging makes emotional use of lit candles to convey Marius’ survivor’s guilt in a visually powerful way. By the end of the song, I dare you to not shed a few tears.
“Les Misérables” has the perfect combination of catchy music, talented actors and clever staging. But its greatest strength is the relatability of the story. You root for Jean Valjean as he gets the redemption he deserves. You feel the distinct pains of falling in love, but having it be unrequited. You are infected with the energy of the students who are ready to revolt against the oppressive government. It hurts as you see the tragic downfall. But, above all, you feel hope because “even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.”
“Les Misérables” could gather audiences purely on the recognition of its name, but the reason the show has lasted for over three decades is because it can relate to the audience, no matter the generation.