Theater: A fresh look at ‘Les Miserables’
You may think you’ve seen “Les Miserables” done well before, but you’ve never seen it done like this. Top theater talents come together to put a fresh spin on one of history’s most-loved stories. If you’ve only seen the movie, then you definitely deserve to have your memory purged by experiencing the high-caliber production now playing at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway.
There is no turntable here, which may be a good or bad thing depending on how traditional you are. There are all new sets and some new choreography to keep the material feeling fresh. In fact, everything goes so smoothly that nitpicky issues that would barely be a blip on the radar in lesser productions become more prominent.
For example, casting goes color-blind as Tony Award-winner Nikki M. James (“Book of Mormon”) plays teen Eponine. The character is first represented by a younger actress with lighter skin, from two white parents, and then her race inexplicably changes halfway through the show. It’s something you have to notice, and therefore deliberately overlook; this is work the audience shouldn’t have to do.
On the up side, Caissie Levy (“Ghost,” “Murder Ballad”) may not be onstage long as Fantine, but her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” — which has been overplayed in recent years thanks to Susan Boyle and Anne Hathaway — makes it sound like a new song. The same can be said of the undeniably show-stopping “Bring Him Home” as sung by Broadway newcomer Ramin Karimloo, playing an inspired Jean Valjean.
The dashing Will Swenson as Javert turns the hateful character into a smoldering villain; there will always be some trickery to giving him proper gravitas when he seems to be the only inspector running around all of France, but Swenson does his best to get the audience to take our obsessive antagonist seriously. Unfortunately, that’s all undone with a giggle-inducing climax that launches him to his death in slow motion, limbs grappling without purchase through the air. Javert does, after so much hard work by Swenson, deserve a little more dignity.
Still, you can’t bypass the chance to hear this incredible score via live orchestra, coupled with an overall revamp that’s so unexpectedly entertaining — even after seeing this play staged several times — that all little flaws can be forgiven. There aren’t many three-hour musicals we’d say this about, but if you invited us next weekend we’d be delighted to see it all over again.
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