> > > humor on < < <
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”
> > > humor(?) off < < <
“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,
- 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.
“… the best of times, it was the worst of times …”
which I address in reverse:
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.