Just prior to it's well publicized Broadway closing, the "world's most popular musical" played over 37,000 professional performances to a total audience of more that 49 million people. The largest live audience being 125,000 at the 1989 Australia day concert in Sydney.
The plot for the handful of people who have not yet heard of Les Miserables, pronounced "le-miz- eh-rahb" is thick and dreary while surrounded by a wonderful score and compelling characters.
The story is the challenging life adventure of Jean Valjean, a newly released prisoner who is chased and hunted for years by police inspector Javert who is driven to make Valjean pay again for his crime of stealing a loaf of bread. The time and setting take place from 1815 to 1832 in Paris, where Valjean has taken on a new identity and an honest and respected life amid the great unrest of the French government. Valjean encounters several characters and situations that lend itself to some serious decisions, soul searching and moral lessons that we could very well apply in our day.
After seeing Les Miserables again, I am amazed how well it has held up through the years. As numerous musicals come and go, Les Miz has endured to become the second longest running show in Broadway history.
On the heels of its New York closing in May 2003, comes the remaining American tour and it is proving to be a solid representative of the original production for the most part. Like a well-oiled machine, the brick gated walls and war barricade exchange places as the cast scurries on and off the famous rotating stage. This is a very top of the line tour and the cast sings the Schonberg-Kretzmer score with great power and ease. Randal Keith, who closed the final Broadway production, handles the role of Valjean with great ability and familiarity, having played the tour extensively. His main adversary, Javert is played by Stephen Tewksbury, who is more than equipped to vocally carry his load. But I never sensed the animosity; the anger, the disgust, and the frustration that should have taken place between such long time bitter rivals. Even more disappointing I did not feel Valjean's pain or Javert's desperation in either of their over all performances. It's as if the roles were played with polish that's lost its passion.
As far as the other casting, it is sufficient, even good, but there are few outstanding performances among them. Marius, Josh Young/> offers a strong singing voice yet lacks warmth and charm as he pursues his Cosette, played by Amanda Huddleston, who also sings well but seems in a bit of a rush to deliver most of her scenes. The Thenardiers' played by Cindy Benson/> (Madame) and David McDonald (Thenardier) also seem to fall a bit short of the "over the top" comedy. They never quite engage the audience as the laughable scoundrels they portray. The "Master of the House" scene is well-staged but seems very self consumed with what's taking place on stage, rather than reaching the audience with all the action taking place at the Inn.
Understudy Linda Pierson Huff does an admirable while not especially impresssive job with the role of Fantine. A distracting element was the fact that the director chose to take Fantine's money song "I Dreamed a Dream" and have the poor girl's back to the audience for the first quarter of this great song. Similarly, the staging and execution of Javert's "Soliloquy" not only lacks emotion but ends with Javert literally stepping over the railing to the floor in a "stop, drop and roll" your way to death off the stage, which was very visible from my front orchestra seat. Ma-Anne Dionisio plays Eponine with passion and spunk and nails "On My Own" as well as any other actress that has played this popular role. The ensamble is strong and knocks out impressive renditions of "One Day More" and "Do You Hear The People Sing" In fact the entire score is offered with great articulation and clarity, which is well appreciated for a musical that is mostly sung.