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Review: 25th anniversary edition of 'Les Miserables' a powerhouse

May 15, 2013

YellowBrix

May 15--Another day, another destiny, another Les Miserables.

Too soon after the recent movie version?

Not at all: The national tour, which opened Tuesday night at the Ohio Theatre, is a terrific reminder of how good a classic modern musical can be.

Beautifully staged and even more beautifully sung than any other Les Miz that I can recall (including the original Broadway production that I saw the week it opened in March 1987), this sterling production lifts the spirit and touches the heart.

Peter Lockyer meets the demands of his pivotal role as Jean Valjean, the ex-convict who devotes his life to redemption. His Who Am I? brims with dawning clarity; his Bring Him Home is unusually simple and poignant. And the way Lockyer helps build the cumulative power of the terrific first-act finale, One Day More, is sublime.

Andrew Varela is especially powerful as Inspector Javert in relentless pursuit of Valjean, while Briana Carlson-Goodman is heartbreaking as Eponine, whose unrequited love for Marius is expressed searingly in On My Own.

Genevieve LeClerc overcomes the odds to make a memorable Fantine, Cosette's self-sacrificing mother. LeClerc manages somehow to hold her own in I Dreamed a Dream, by now very much an uphill battle against the formidable memories of Susan Boyle and Anne Hathaway.

While the 2012 film version doesn't do justice to the comic villainy of the Thenardiers, the stage musical offers ample opportunities for mirth and mischief that Timothy Gulan seizes as the greedy innkeeper and that Shawna M. Hamic often steals from Gulan as the innkeeper's larcenous wife. If he's the Master of the House (as always, the number that gives the show a boost midway into the first act), she's definitely its Mistress.

There isn't a weak performer in the topnotch ensemble or a weak moment in the tapestry of music, emotion, lighting and scenery that brings the 19th-century France of Victor Hugo's ennobling imagination to haunting life.

To tell the truth, I miss the original staging -- the one with the turntable -- but it's worthwhile to rethink a classic for a new generation, and this redesign, partly based on Hugo's paintings, works better than expected.

Such a cascade of ravishing songs fill the operatic masterpiece by author-composer Claude-Michel Schonberg, author Alain Boublil and lyricist Herbert Kretzmer that quite a few good ones tend to get overlooked -- but not in this tour. Every song and just about every word is thrillingly transparent and potent.

Just for example, this production sparks well-earned applause when Enjolras (stalwart Jason Forbach), Marius (endearing Devin Ilaw) and their band of idealistic student rebels contrast "the red" and "the black." Meanwhile, Varela lifts Stars to the heavens and plumbs his transformational Soliloquy to the depths.

The new orchestrations are gorgeous. The live orchestra, under conductor Lawrence Goldberg, often seems to be in psychic alignment with the cast.

Do You Hear the People Sing? In this tour, you do clearly.

More than a few dramatic peaks have been reconceived by directors Laurence Connor and James Powell with brilliant understatement, from a well-lit offstage death to a whirling-vortex onstage death. (Did I mention it's a tragedy? Take a handkerchief.)

Whatever one may think about the Oscar-winning film version (and I had mixed feelings), Les Miz is a musical that works best live and in its purely theatrical glory. So if you're still not sure what all the fuss has been about all these years, grab this chance to see the 25th anniversary tour, which has returned in top form after visiting here last year.

What else can I say? It's my favorite musical.

After seeing Les Miz so many times, I didn't expect to be bowled over again. I was.

My only quibble: Edited down to about 2 hours, 53 minutes from the original 3 1/4-hour Broadway show, this version moves so briskly that the audience doesn't have time to fully take in some evocative moments.

With powerhouse performances and the elegant restaging, it's a world you simply long to see again.

___

(c)2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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