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Review: 25th Anniversary of Les Miserables Is The Best Thing Since Stolen Bread

The 25th anniversary tour of Les Miserables is aimed at providing an homage to the original production, with the addition of more modern musical theatre sensibility. The multiple Tony Award-winning musical is based on the novel by Victor Hugo, and chronicles the journey of Jean Valjean, who breaks his parole after nineteen years of incarceration for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving nephew. As he evades Inspector Javert, he takes on the daughter (Cosette) of a dying woman who works for him (Fantine), and through him becomes entangled with students (Marius and Enjolras) organizing a small and spirited revolution against the government.

Les Miserables As Touching As It Was 25 Years Ago

HE SAID: If you have only seen this show in high schools or on TV when PBS decides to broadcast the movie or concert version, you have to get down to the Denver Center to see this show. I was in that situation and had never fully understood the full plot or the hold this show seems to have over some people. But then I saw this production and fully converted. The power, magnificence, and sheer awe-inspiring nature of this production is incredible and unlike most anything else you will see come through Denver. From the voices to the sets to the special effects, everything about this production is huge in the best way.

SHE SAID: This show is like musical theater crack to me. It is absolutely habit-forming. If I were a rat in a cage, I’d press a lever to hear the soundtrack over and over, shunning food and water to ensure continuous delivery of the beautiful solos and incomparable choral numbers. The story is compellingly human and complex, the music swells with the spirit of salvation and struggle. I’ve loved it ever since I first saw it, and the production that is currently at the Buell artfully does justice to this legendary piece of theater. It’s an experience that any theater lover, no matter how casual, should have.

Vocalists Conquer Iconic Music

HE SAID: Full disclosure – I am not a huge fan of classical singing voices. I appreciate the technique involved and understand those skills absolutely enhance every other style of singing. With that acknowledged, I still gravitate more towards contemporary, pop, and rock musicals, which means shows like this often leave me feeling a bit unfulfilled because I never lose myself in the music – except for this production. J. Mark McVey as Jean Valjean is flawless in his performance as evident by the incredibly lengthy and well-deserved round of applause following his solo number “Bring Him Home.” The other leading males, including Andrew Varela as Javert, Justin Scott Brown as Marius, and Jeremy Hays as Enjolras give impressive, moving vocal performances as well.

SHE SAID: Most men don’t understand how even fictional characters can inspire cattiness, but most women I known are starkly divided on whether they identify with Cosette or Eponine. It can be a divisive issue. I’ve been a clear Eponine since age 15, and Chasten Harmon gives the right amount of tomboy fierceness for the role. Her vocals, especially in the well-known “Own My Own” are amazingly powerful, and her entire performance was well-acted. Her voice might be slightly too contemporary for the role, at times very much embracing a pop style. If any character might embrace a more modern sound, I think I can be Eponine, but none of the other vocal performances were quite as updated as hers. Betsy Morgan as Fantine gave my favorite female performance of the evening, with a strong classic vocal style and a heart-breaking acting performance. As Cosette, Jenny Latimer was sweet, simple, and able to achieve the operatic vocal requirements of the role. Her performance had no noticeable  flaws, did little to convert me from my long-standing and somewhat unfair personal bias against the personality of the character (or lack thereof).

Digital Projections Make It Possible to Take Big Show on the Road

HE SAID: A typical complaint from theatre people about touring productions is that they are noticeably scaled down a great deal from their Broadway origins, which usually mean a great effect or design is lost on the road. While die-hard fans of the show might grumble about the loss of the iconic turntable in this 25th anniversary production, the truth of the matter is that this show is presented as large as a full-scale Broadway production. The massive barricade and the enormous multi-level sets all added to the beautiful beast, but the most impressive were the new digital projections using drawings from the Victor Hugo himself. These projections update the presentation and really make the adventure come alive as we race through (and under) the war town streets of France.

SHE SAID: I agree that the technical elements were outstanding, and iconic elements of the first production (like the turntable) are missing only due to nostalgia, no elements of storytelling are spared. The lighting design by Paule Constable skillfully uses haze, piercing isolated lighting effects and digital projections to create an artistic and engaging setting. Although I think the music stands up nearly on its own, the design elements in this production add yet another layer of spectacle that allows the audience to get lost in the world of the characters. Matt Kinley’s large set pieces were impressive, intricate, and moved smoothly on and offstage to create the great number of settings for the difference scenes.

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Anniversary Tour Shouldn’t Be Missed

THEY SAID: In our evaluation, this acclaimed tour is worthy of all of the hype surrounding it. From the inspirational swells of the orchestra pit to the dynamic projections on the huge scrim, this production is formidable enough to bear the weight of one of the most dense pieces in the modern musical theatre cannon. We were both moved to the point of both breathlessness and tears at various moments during this rich and touching rendition of this classic musicalized story. You might regret it for the next 25 years if you can’t find a way to enjoy it for yourself!

For a full history and plot synopsis of Les Miserables, see the wikipedia article. Les Miserables plays through September 10 in the Buell Theater in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Click the banner above for tickets and more information.


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