August, 2023, when most of Los Angeles is trying to beat the heat by escaping the city, an enthusiastic audience filled the Hollywood Pantages Theatre to experience Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s masterful Les Misèrables. “Les Miz,” a cultural phenomenon, based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel is set in 19th century France. It follows the life of Jean Valjean, who was convicted and served 19 years in jail and forced labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. He seeks redemption despite Javert’s, (ex-guard and rival) decade long hunt for him after his violation of parole. This Puccini-esque musical originally opened on Broadway in March of 1987 following its debut in London. After 6,680 performances, the final curtain came down in New York in 2003, having won eight Tony Awards. Subsequently it has been produced in 40 countries and translated into 21 languages.
Even after the postponement during the pandemic, there is little question that this new National Tour production under the astute directorial collaboration of Laurence Connor and James Powell artfully expresses the legacy of this iconic work. The combined elements of the Musical Staging by Geoffrey Garratt depict bawdy knavish gatherings, the barricaded streets of Paris during the revolution, which are countered by the elegant swirling couples in velvet and satin in grand ball style. This leads to the final farewell of the beloved Valjean. The new orchestration by Stephen Metcalfe, Christopher Jahnke and Stephen Brooker gives life to John Cameron’s original orchestrations. The use of artful lighting by Paule Constable and creative projections of Finn Ross and Fifty-Nine Productions makes this a thrilling and timeless experience even today.
This production has an extraordinary cast headed by the brilliant Nick Cartell, who reveals his remarkable vocal and dramatic facility by bringing a poignant humanity to Jean Valjean’s character. His sensitive portrayal transforms the role into an experience that resonates throughout and triumphs in his heart-stopping “Bring Him Home.” Preston Truman Boyd’s Powerful Javert not only creates a tension between he and Valjean, but a throughline that supports the strong cast and fulfills the piece’s direction and commitment. Javert’s moving and fatal Soliloquy brings Boyd’s vocal and physically challenging demise to a stunning and powerful end.
Monsieur Thénardier played by Matt Crowle and Madame Thénardier, Christina Rose Hall are innkeepers in Montfermeil and are the two main antagonists. Their comic-relief manages to relieve the tension with their show stopping “Master of the House.” Their deceptive hilarity drives the desperate Fantine, played by Haley Dortch, with her strong vocal skill and sympathetic presence, to her eventual deathbed. Addie Morales who plays the ingenue, Cossette, is a facile soprano with passionate energy of young love, yet at times hinting momentarily at over-effort. She is paired with Gregory Lee Rodriguez as Marius, who adds his rich voice and youthful presence to the innocence and danger of their passion and romance.
Important to mention are the student revolutionaries led by Babet mightily present in Ciaran Bowling’s interpretation, along with the precocious young Henry Kirk’s Gavroche, played with true flair and panache.
Christine Heesun Hwang’s Eponine is a tragic character whose love for Marius leads to her sacrifice. Hwang’s strong voice yet unfulfilled depiction of this flawed character in the memorable “On My Own” fell just short of the dramatic empathy needed to be fully effective.
Like so many other productions, Les Miz was shuttered in March 2020 because of the Pandemic, so it is a wonderful gift to now experience this beloved allegory nearly three years later. If you have not seen Les Misèrables in its full glory, this production is an important legacy that is a must. But even if you have, this exquisite production is a feast. From the audience’s enthusiastic response, it is clear that Les Misèrables is one of our most beloved Operas. This production is a powerful must see and one that should be passed on from generation to generation.
To learn more about the Hollywood Pantages Theatre and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: “One Day More” from Les Misérables – Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade