Les Misérables -Musical

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Paris: The City of Light
-Les Mis tour: Not enough light.

Les Misérables aficionados talk about it “24 / 7”
-Les Misérables fanatics rave about it “2,4 / 6,0,1”

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“Les Misérables” returned to the DPAC stage in early February, more familiar and more reliable than any groundhog (American cultural reference for February). This show is partly spectacle, reminding me that it was the first on Broadway to stun me with its staging. It is mostly classic musical theater, reminding me that I’m not a pure fan of that genre (see below). This night there was much to like.

The cast takes turns shining in strange stage lighting that generally leaves one side of each face in darkness.

Just as sure as Josh Davis (Javert) opened stronger than Nick Cartell (Valjean), it was the latter that, like his character, owned the high ground in the end. In particular, Cartell’s soothing “Bring Him Home” in act two showcased stunning range and won me over.

The ensemble was in exceptionally strong voice. The youngest actors delivered excellence.

A native of our locale was featured on this tour in the role of Éponine but, alas, not on this night. Nor was the usual lead Talia Simone Robinson available. Instead, we witnessed Ashley Dawn Mortensen stepping out as the French lass, and stepping up!

That substitution might have momentarily disappointed some, but our Éponine opened the second act with complete ownership of her voice, the stage, the audience, and the post-intermission launch pad. It was a stunning performance that made Ashley my female co-star, with the pre-intermission equivalent being marvelous Melissa Mitchell as Fantine, too little seen.

To be blunt, the staging on this tour was not completely to my liking.

    “It was …,” to quote Dickens rather than Victor Hugo,
    “… the best of times, it was the worst of times …”
    which I address in reverse:

  • Stage left and stage right there were massive structures in the foreground. While used well, they seemed to cramp the cast into half the allotted facility space, and simply intruded upon the eye, especially, I suppose, from my seat in the wings.
  • The barricade staging, however, was as captivating, and scene-enhancing as one should expect from any production. The mishmash of parts was assembled well. The actors flitted upon the structure adeptly, defying the precariousness of their environment but helping the audience sense their trepidation with every movement.
  • The lighting for the barricade segments was stunning and effective, drawing strong approval that offset my disfavor with the less luminous portions of the show.
  • There was excellent yet constrained use of video backdrop. I continue to be surprised there is not more extensive use of video in Broadway shows, though I think theatergoers can fairly demand it be used as effectively as it was by this production team.

At the risk of adding another downbeat, it behooves me to explain that I primarily dislike one aspect of “classic musical theater:” when the story stops for one actor to seek the spotlight on a vacated stage, sometimes fore of the dropped curtain. Fellow audience members are rarely bothered by this, I think. And (that’s it!) I think:

  • What is going on behind the curtain?
  • Why did everything stop?
  • When is this concert piece going to end?

An upbeat climax to this post is to declare what is widely known: the music of “Les Mis” is full of hits, not “missés,” with height and depth worthy of any, classic or current.

“Les Misérables” was viewed February 1, 2018, at the Durham Performing Arts Center in North Carolina. I would indeed see it again.

8 thoughts on “Les Misérables -Musical”

  1. Isn’t it surprising how much something as small as lighting (which you wouldn’t even think about usually) can have such an impact on the show when done wrong !! I recently found the sound very questionable at a show I attended and I was surprised how much it affected my enjoyment!! Glad that there were more hits than misses in this case though!! Les Mis is a show that I’ve not seen in years, perhaps I should plan a visit!

  2. When I saw Les Mis in Greenville, it was my 5th time seeing the stage, my 2nd time seeing it professionally, and my 1st time on the tour. This was such a powerful cast and I had an understudy as Eponine and I had Talia Simone Robinson in the role. Nick Cartell led this cast so strongly and he was so wonderful as Jean Valjean. This was such a wonderful cast. The staging was brilliant and added more color to the production and added more complexity to the show. The projections in the back were beautiful as it added more Victor Hugo to the show. The transitions flowed so smoothly.

  3. It is great that you loved the staging of the tour show. I admit to being cold to much of it, but thought the barricade scenes were terrific. I commend the cast as you did.

    A post on your blog says this about Les Miserables, which is great:
    “By having an obsession, you see a lot in the musical.”
    I’m in that camp with “Hamilton: An American Musical” (I know you’re skeptical). I could also be that way toward Dr. Shivago, my all-time favorite movie; you know that movies can connect you to stage shows, ala Les Mis.

    1. I never thought I would develop an obsession for Les Mis. Prior to Les Mis entering my life, I thought ALL musicals were HAPPY only because that was I had known, but I did know about sad though. High School me unfairly judged tragedies and I told myself they are pure sad and nothing else and I will never love them and so on. Looks like Les Mis proved me wrong on many layers. The obsession for Les Mis I have is what made musicals a passion of mine. By keeping the obsession, the passion in Les Mis shines through.

  4. Last time I saw Les Mis was in London in the early 2000s. It was the only time I’ve ever been disappointed (apart from the Jonas Brother as Marius incident for the 25th Anniversary Concert) and it was purely because they had cast an ex boy band member as Enjolras. He had neither the range nor the acting skills.
    My first Eponine was Lea Salonga, no one since has managed to beat her for me 😊

    1. I checked Lea Salonga’s credits because I don’t know her. Currently starring in “Once On This Island,” I likely won’t be meeting her on my next NYC trip, as “Come From Away” is atop the priority list.

      Thanks for stopping by my blog site and making a conversation happen.

      1. She was the original Miss Saigon. Also Eponine in the 10th Anniversary Les Mis concert and Fantine in the 25th 😊

        I’ll have to check out the others ones later tonight. Once I’ve finishing hanging my Hamilton poster 😊

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