The famous "Les Misérables" turntable set that master parodist Gerard Allessandrini so wickedly satirized in his Forbidden Broadway revues is gone in the 25th anniversary revival tour of this international blockbuster.
Though purists might initially balk at this seemingly significant change, Laurence Connor and James Powell, co-directors of this new staging of the epic musical drama, have provided plenty of welcome fresh touches to the conceptions that Trevor Nunn and John Caird introduced in the original production in the 1980s. In this enthralling revisit to a classic, the story and music spin along with renewed luster.
Among the invigorating new inspirations for this revival are Matt Kinley’s gorgeous and atmospheric sets, which are inspired by paintings by Victor Hugo (author of the original 1862 French novel "Les Misérables"), They are enriched by lovely projected images and are magnificently lit by Paule Constable. Beyond the visual marvels of this rendition, remarkable collaborative efforts of the cast and other behind-the-scenes talents add to the triumph.
This highly accessible production plays out like stirring melodrama combined with a crisply atmospheric historical ambience. Terrifically sung and bolstered by Michael Ashcroft’s enthralling musical staging, the score by Claude Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer is in fine hands here, enhanced by new orchestrations by Chris Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe, and Stephen Brooker, and music direction by Kevin Stites (supervised by Dan Bowling). The original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel is augmented with additional material by James Fenton.
The familiar but always fascinating story is set in revolution-ravaged 19th-century France, relating the plight of Jean Valjean (Peter Lockyer), a fugitive from cruelly unjust imprisonment, who is doggedly pursued for many years by the law officer Javert (Andrew Varela), after the poverty-ravaged fugitive stole a loaf of bread out of desperation.
A key subplot centers on a romance between revolutionary student Marius (Max Quinlan) and the orphaned Cosette (Lauren Wiley). Javert’s misguided righteousness keeps him in pursuit of Valjean after the parole violator becomes a mayor. The French Revolution forms the intriguing backdrop for this narrative, as human drama and tumultuous historical events imbue the piece with an eloquent classical feel.
Lockyer gives an affecting portrayal as the heroic protagonist, boasting a soaring voice, brimming with power, poignancy, and conviction, in such showstopping numbers as "Who Am I?" and "Bring Him Home." Varela, who achieves his finest moments in the dynamic "Stars," is formidable as the ruthless pursuer Javert, bringing complexity to a role that evokes both contemptibility and pity.
As the humorous but detestable innkeepers, the Thénardiers, Timothy Gulan and Shawna M. Hamic are in top form, particularly when they lead the rousing group number, "Master of the House."
Chasten Harmon excels as the ill-fated innkeeper’s daughter Eponine in On My Own," which kicks the second act off with a bang, bringing out the best in this heartwrenching ballad. Also impressive is Betsy Morgan, who elicits empathy as the doomed prostitute Fantine. The ensemble work is likewise sublime, all the way down the line.
This extraordinarily literate musical conjures the scope, eloquence, and musical splendor of grand opera-ingredients that will hopefully result in a magnificent experience when the long-awaited film version opens in December, fighting the ongoing odds against financially successful film musicals. This fortuitously timed revival is perhaps the best possible marketing aid the film producers could have hoped for.
"Les Misérables" runs through June 24 at Segerstrom Center, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa, California. For info or tickets, call 714-556-2787 or visit scfta.org