Undisputed as the most popular musical of all time, “Les Misérables” celebrates its 25th anniversary with Cameron Mackintosh’s re-imagined production at The 5th Avenue Theatre. The tour shattered box office records during its run at The 5th last August, with over 50,000 patrons clamoring to join the revolution, and it’s clear why. Its enduring humanity makes for an unforgettable experience. Throw in some colorful ladies of the night, a band of idealistic youths, a doomed love triangle, and an epic score that will knock your socks off, and you’ve got yourself a hit.
At the center of “Les Misérables” are two men steered by their unshakable faith — one by his belief in mercy, the other by his belief in justice. After spending 19 years in a hard labor prison for theft, Jean Valjean breaks his parole to begin a new life free from the stigma of his crime. Although he has changed into a decent man, he is hounded by Inspector Javert, an absolutist whose purpose only makes sense if the Law is Good. Set against the bloody backdrop of the French Revolution, “Les Misérables” includes all of Victor Hugo’s favorite themes: faith, redemption, love, and what makes a man good or evil.
The two leads do not disappoint. Peter Lockyer’s sensitive “Valjean” and Andrew Varela’s righteous “Javert” are perfectly matched and both outfitted with spectacular voices. In fact, be careful if you sit in center orchestra because when either of them face the audience while singing, you might have to adjust your ‘do. Lockyer’s stirring performance of “Bring Him Home” balances the requisite gentleness with a powerful desperation that hits the back wall.
The rest of the cast holds up its end of the bargain with gusto. The Thénardiers, played by the disgustingly delicious duo Timothy Gulan and Shawna M. Hamic, are perfect representations of society’s bottom feeders, from halfway revolutionaries in it for the grave robbing to nouveau riche opportunists. The cherubic Marcus D’Angelo steals every scene he’s in as “Gavroche,” the pint-size rebel with more street smarts than all of Fagin’s gang. Max Quinlan’s “Marius” delivers a sweet, earnest performance, expertly avoiding sappy romance. Briana Carlson-Goodman as “Éponine” breaks your heart.
The production itself is incredibly versatile, able to simulate a grand march through the streets of Paris with a hungry gang of revolutionaries, while also zeroing in à la cinematic close-up on the tortured face of Fantine as she belts “I Dreamed a Dream.” Paule Constable’s lighting design is absolutely brilliant in this way. Matt Kinley’s set design, inspired by Hugo’s paintings, is an ever-changing puzzle, a feast for the eyes.
The projections are a double-edged sword. While most of the effects are fascinating, especially during Marius and Valjean’s sewer escape and the aforementioned march through the streets, they can also be distracting. This is especially true during Javert’s “Soliloquy,” which is a pity.
“Les Miz” is ironically known for it excess, but Mackintosh’s production does not stop for stragglers. The orchestra begins its iconic glittering and you’re off — there is no wallowing, no time to wipe your eyes, and God help you if you sneeze more than once in a row. For the most part, the sense of urgency is invigorating, but even though the acting is quite good, a few small, beautiful moments get lost in the flurry.
Still, the glory of the show’s staying power is undeniable — every generation has its ideals and betrayals, its scallawags and its martyrs. For every Cosette, there is an unrequited Éponine. For every selfless Valjean, there is a Thénardier. Sometimes what you think is good and true, isn’t; and sometimes a thief on the run is more than what he seems. At the end of the day, it’s about doing the right thing.
“Les Misérables” plays at The 5th Avenue Theatre through July 8th. To purchase tickets (starting at $45), visit www.5thavenue.org, call the box office at (206) 625-1900, or stop by the box office at 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle.
Fun trivia! Producer Cameron Mackintosh is also working on the “Les Misérables” film coming out this December. Can’t wait!
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