‘Les Miz’ returns, amplified & aiming to please

RETURN OF 'LES MIZ': Cast performs 'One Day More'. Photo: Matthew Murphy

RETURN OF ‘LES MIZ’: Cast performs ‘One Day More’. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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LES MISÉRABLES
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Adapted by Trevor Nunn & John Caird
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Original French text by Alain Boublil & Jean-Marc Natel
Directed by Laurence Connor & James Powell
Imperial Theatre
249 West 45th Street
(212-239-6200), www.LesMiz.com/Broadway

By David NouNou

My word–yet another version of squalor and desperation to dream a dream on the streets of Paris and storming the barricades for one more day. Is there anything that can keep this musical away for at least a decade? After its resounding opening success in 1987, it ran for 16 years, which brought us to 2003. This was followed by an abysmal cheesy revival in 2006 that ran for a little over a year, ultimately generating a worldwide successful movie in 2012 that would of course spawn yet another revival in 2014. Now that’s a lot of misery.

What dubious distinction would this version possess that its predecessors lacked? Well, the spinning, revolving turntable set is now gone and replaced by digital backdrops imposed on the back wall based on Victor Hugo’s own drawings. This is supposed to give us a more realistic sense of atmosphere. Since the movie opened new venues from the stage version, current revivalists have to come up with new spins from the behemoth original version and cost cutting (whether downsizing the orchestra or cast) plays a big factor.

Just for stealing a loaf of bread, Jean Valjean (Ramin Karimloo) is sent to prison for 19 years. Upon release and trying to turn a new leaf and even assuming a new identity, he is dogged relentlessly for years by Javert (Will Swenson) his persecutor. He fulfills his promise to Fantine (Caissie Levy) on her deathbed, a former employee at his factory by rescuing her daughter Cosette (Samantha Hill) from the Thenardiers (Cliff Saunders and Keala Settle) and raising her as his own and wanting for nothing. . Through his many good deeds Valjean seeks and ultimately gains salvation, while Javert in his diabolical pursuit loses to his demons and ultimate demise. Amidst this saga is a failed student uprising that brings together Marius (Andy Mientus) and Cosette but brings Epionine (Nikki M. James) who worships Marius, heartache and claims her as the first victim of the revolution.

Ramin Karimloo possesses a stunning voice and is a worthy successor to Colm Wilkinson in the role as Valjean. His “Bring Him Home” is nothing short of heavenly. One does wonder though how much of it is his voice and how much of it is controlled by the sound engineer. Every song in the show is so amplified and echoed that is strips the majesty from the magnificent Schonberg melodies. This is a great shame because the score is the best written one of the last 30 years and it is undermined of its grandeur by injecting it with unneeded sound enhancement.

Will Swenson as Javert has complete command of the role and it’s very gratifying to see him in a role in which he is comfortable and is worthy of his talents. As for the rest of the cast, especially the younger set, what can I say? Instead of singing their parts as characters in the show, they have all learned the nasty habit of singing songs in the “American Idol” style, which is a great detriment to the show. This reinvention and unnecessary excessive humor injected (especially by the overripe Thenardiers) in the oddest of scenes is courtesy of the directors Laurence Connor and James Powell. They discarded the magnificently paced original direction by Trevor Nunn and John Caird and replaced it with their own underwhelming vision. I guess this is their contribution to appeal to a younger audience. En fin dacor, c’est tout.

 

Published April 15, 2014

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