Book by Alain Boublil
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Adapted from a novel by Victor Hugo
Directed and Choreographed by D. J. Salisbury
Musical direction by Ken Clifton
Starring Michael Hunsaker and Davis Gaines
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL
Orlando Shakes opens another season with an extensive evening of poverty and anthems and a high tech revolving stage. I’ve heard “Les Mis” referred to as a Man’s Musical, there’s more marching and anthem singing than romance or kissing. Jean Valjean (Hunsaker) steals a loaf of bread and does 19 years hard labor in return, and the obsessive Javert (Gaines) spends the rest of his career harassing Valjean for “breaking parole”. In return Valjean is constantly offering to turn himself in but never does. Still, if all criminals rehabbed as well as Valjean the world would be a better place. Valjean borrows some silver plate from a priest, opens a button factory and employs poor but catty women to make something profitable. When the single mom Fantine is chased out she sells her hair and her honor to save her daughter who she farmed out to the comic relief of the show, Madam and Messrs. Thénardier. When a bunch of dissatisfied Parisian youth raise a revolution that no one joins, Valjean is sucked up into it, captures Javert but lets him go and escapes into a sewer with Cosette’s fiancé Maurice. There’s more, of course, but you get the idea: there’s plenty of plot on this stage, and plenty of rousing music.
With a large cast of new comers, it’s hard to pick a favorite actor in this mega production. Gaines is a local boy who’s done well in another large and famous show, here he’s obsessive and legalistic to a fault as he belts out some great solos numbers, “Stars” and “Soliloquy” are both outstanding. Hunsaker’s Valjean is likeable if good to fault, his powerful voice can more than fill the Margeson rafters. Fantine (Lianne Marie Dobbs) dies way too soon, her “I Dreamed a Dream” is the best “I Want” song of the show. Her daughter Cosette (Heather Botts) is a near double, we speculated that it might be a doubled role until they both appeared in the closing number. The Thénardier’s (Anne Herring and James Beaman) drove most of the show’s humor, they were more than just conniving and self-serving, they formed the strongest paring of the show and lead us all in the joyous “Master of the House.” Lastly I’ll point out young Marius (Tim Quartier), he sang well, fought well, and showed the sort of youthful idealism that screams out “I need a cause to die for!”
This is a major production, the revolving stage from last season’s Nicholas Nickleby re-appeared and kept the action flowing as it gave the marching scenes a more dynamic feel. The first act flew along quickly and even if “Red and Black” seemed to signal the end of the act there was more to see. The sound was well balanced and had no dead zones or distortion, all the singer’s voices come across bright and crisp. As a story goes, Javert seems overly concerned about tracking the harmless and repentant Valjean while the likes of the Thénardiers fleece the general populace with no threat of reprisal. The conditions shown here might not quite as brutal as those of Dickens or Chekov, but the motivation is the same – a pastoral system collapses and a nation becomes industrial, creating pockets of extreme wealth and oceans of dire poverty and setting a stage for rebellion and warfare. But we know this from hanging out around musical theatre: misery can make for plenty of dramatic and soul stirring music. And that’s what “Les Mis” provides – music that brings tears to your eyes and stays with you as you return to your mundane world of office battles and overbearing credit cards.
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