This was my first live Les Miz, and it did not disappoint. We’d previously seen the film, listened to the 20th anniversary soundtrack, and we both separately read the book in high school. For those not familiar, the musical is a bombastic epic, with solos for many in the ensemble often interwoven in the same song, telling the story of downtrodden inhabitants of revolutionary France.
The risk of a show like this is that it’s an inherently big production. The show runs three hours, with intermission, and that’s only possible with a relentless pace that directors Toby Orenstein and Steven Fleming sustain. Set designer David A. Hopkins and lighting designer Lynn Joslin pull off evocative sets despite the challenges of working in a mid-sized theater in the round. The main trade-off comes at the expense of guests with small bladders who are requested to keep their seats: all four directions have doors and balconies and all may come into use from scene to scene. That’s a small price to pay to be so close to the action. Drew Dedrick’s sound design deserves a special mention; combined with the musical direction by Christopher Youstra the sound often gave a sense of place, particularly in the sewers of the second act.
For a detailed review, see Amanda Gunther’s extensive write-up. The principals all perform well and the costuming by David Gregory and Shannon M. Maddox does a great job of letting Daniel Felton’s Jean Valjean portray the same man over a range of decades and circumstances. However, it was Lawrence B. Munsey’s performance as Javert that caught my attention; this particular relentless inspector does not experience a dramatic turnabout so much as suffer a slow disillusionment before the leads’ final confrontation.
As I mentioned in my review of the film, one of my favorite parts of live theater is the freedom to choose where to direct my attention. Sometimes this means noting standout singers like Tobias Young in the comparatively minor part as student radical Combeferre. More often though, this means focusing my attention on favorite characters. This was well rewarded; MaryKate Brouillet’s Eponine, though a love-struck waif, portrayed the street smarts and bittersweet emotional range that makes me so fond of the character. The Sun had found her early performances a bit self-conscious but if that was once the case, it was no longer true when we saw the show. The only false note for me was a matter of the theater’s choice of direction and adaptation: the fast pacing made her pivotal reappearance at the barricade a bit abrupt.
Our favorite performance, though, was that of revolutionary student leader Enjolras (Ben Lurye). The character, across a range of adaptations, has consistently been a charismatic one, particularly when chiding Marius (Jeffrey S. Shankle) for his love at first sight. However, he’s also an ambiguous one, unafraid of violence and a bit too accepting of martyrdom. Lurye’s interpretation was fascinating to watch as Enjolras came to realize his plan was coming off the rails.
In short, we highly recommend it, and may well attempt to catch another show before its November 10th close.
Side note on dinner theater - basically the theater opens two hours before the show starts, and there’s a solid buffet meal awaiting you. I liked their taste in wines, but do be sure not to drink too much, as this is really not the show to slip out during.