A production of Les Mis?rables would need to be plagued with horrendous singers, numerous technical glitches or some unfathomable problem for it to fail. When a production of Les Mis?rables contains all of the quintessential elements, it will undoubtedly blow you away and move you to speechlessness and tears.
Unfortunately, the National Theatre’s production of the hit musical does not transform you into a blubbering mute, but it will dazzle you, enthrall you and probably choke you up a bit.
The powerful message of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel leaps from the stage and smacks you in the face with each musical note. You feel notes of the bass in the pit of your stomach; the soprano voices make your temples pulse; and Hugo’s story invades your mind as you sit mesmerized.
The moment the chain gang takes the stage in the opening scene of Les Mis?rables, you become lost in it all – the set, the cast and especially the story.
To rehash the plot of Les Mis?rables seems ridiculous, considering the success it has enjoyed. Few probably do not know about the lives of Jean Valjean and Javert. Or of the struggles of Fantine and Cosette. Or the horrid nature of the Th?nardiers. Or the loves of Eponine and Marius.
The story in the National Theatre production remains the same, although sexual innuendoes of the original script are now blatant phallic jokes. Then again, it is the time of Austin Powers and shagging. In the end, only prurient minds will remember the penis references over the sounds of voices, as they soar above the heads of the audience and hang in the rafters.
As Jean Valjean, Ivan Rutherford makes your spine tingle with his little boy falsetto. He has the ability to make his sweet and almost soprano voice quickly drop to the range of a tenor. His passion and energy are unfaltering throughout the three-hour show.
Perfectly cast, Todd Alan Johnson does not waver in his role as the stoic Javert. You will never see him smile or blink. His deep voice, which seems to originate in the dungeons of Javert’s soul, reverberates with intensity. Furthermore, his low vocals perfectly complement Rutherford’s higher voice. The dichotomous relationship of the law-breaker and law-abider is played out perfectly by the duo.
Sutton Foster gives an unparalleled performance as Eponine, the daughter of the cruel Th?nardiers. She makes you not only believe but also feel her love for Marius. You experience her loneliness and her yearning for love as she sings “On my Own” with fervent emotion.
Regan Thiel stars as Cosette. With her operatic voice, she sings with control and poise. Her voice impressively skyrockets above the alto of Foster and the tenor of Tim Hower, who plays Marius. Although at times her actions seem immature, you can overlook the minor flaws because of her translucent vocals.
As the young love-struck, politically correct scholar, Hower brings a genuine quality to the role of Marius. His interactions with other cast members seem natural and unplanned. Hower deserves the credit for creating chemistry between Marius and Cosette and then conveying that emotion to the audience.
In many musicals the main cast members carry the show, but in Les Mis?rables, the ensemble and supporting cast are inherent to its success. During the fight scenes at the barricade, Harley Adams, who plays the young Gavroche, and Kevin Early as Enjolras are magnificent. Adams is rambunctious and undaunted, like a young child should be. Early, on the other hand, stabilizes the chaos and confusion of the battle scenes with his commandeering stage presence.
Each musical has one token song. For Cats, it’s “Memory.” In Phantom of the Opera, it’s “Music of the Night.” In Les Mis?rables, it’s “I Dreamed a Dream.” The role of Fantine is not large in comparison to other parts, but the actress gets to sing this famous song. She has the ability to steal the show with this one number. In The National Theatre’s production, Joan Almedilla does not even come close to stealing the show. She is the very weak link in an otherwise almost unbreakable chain.
Almedilla struggles for almost every note she sings. “I Dreamed a Dream” should echo throughout the theater with passion, but Almedilla seems downright angry, not emotional. When the notes are in her voice range, you can tell she has a beautiful voice. But on the higher notes, she strains to get there and barely makes it.
Another minor disappointment in the show is Monsieur and Madame Th?nardier, played by J.P Dougherty and Sharron Matthews. The Th?nardiers are responsible for bringing the humorous aspects of the scripts to fruition. At times, Dougherty’s and Matthews’ attempts at humor seem overly contrived and fail to amuse the audience. Nonetheless, the two clearly are talented and do have a few moments when they elicit laughter.
Les Mis?rables thrives in all realms of theater because of its wonderful story and the slew of available talented actors and actresses. Although it’s difficult to find a Colm Wilkinson to play Jean Valjean in every production, Les Mis?rables continues to tantalize audiences. Its successes are vast and numerous and will undoubtedly continue to grow.