Friday, December 9, 2022

Broadway tour of "Les Miserables" at the Orpheum Theatre

The touring production of the 2014 Broadway revival of Les Miserables, the 6th longest running Broadway musical (from 1987 to 2003), is back again! Perhaps because this touring season didn't have a lot of new shows to pick from because of the 18-month Broadway shutdown, this season includes a lot of shows we've seen before. But this is a good one to re-visit, particularly this stunning production. As I've previously written: "Les Miserables is such an inspiring story. Through a moment of kindness, a man's life is changed and he goes on to affect others' lives by passing on that kindness. But through it all he's still just a man, with doubts and regrets and struggles. In short, it's the human experience." Despite the hugeness of this production (in cast, sets, and everything else), it doesn't lose sight of the humanity at the heart of this epic story. Les Miz continues at the Orpheum Theatre through December 18, click here for more information (including student/educator rush) and for the official ticket site. Pro tip: plan to arrive at the theater at least a half hour early to allow for parking, lines, the most thorough security process in town, and finding your seat before the firm start time. If you arrive late, you won't be seated until the opening number concludes (and it's a long one).

Much of the below is borrowed from my review of the 2018 tour since this production is largely unchanged except for cast. 

In case you're unfamiliar with the theater juggernaut that is Les Miserables, here's a quick primer. The musical premiered in London in 1985 and arrived on Broadway in 1987, and became one of the longest running musicals in both locations. Based on the 19th century novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, it follows the life of Jean Valjean from the release from his 20-year imprisonment for stealing food, to his involvement in the Paris Uprising of 1832, and many points and characters in between (there's a handy synapsis in the Playbill). Always on the run from Inspector Javert, Valjean tries to make a good life for his adopted daughter Cosette while struggling with his past. Its themes are surprisingly relevant today - poverty, unfair imprisonment, the difficulties of re-adjusting to life after imprisonment, on the job harassment of women, the unfairness of prostitution laws that lock up the prostitutes but let the johns go free, and taking to the streets to stand up against the unfairness of the government. That's a lot to pack into three hours, but it makes the time fairly fly by (although there are a few too many long endings), as we barrel through a couple decades of French history, and the life of this one ordinary extraordinary man.

Nick Cartell's "Bring Him Home" is a highlight
(photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman
for MurphyMade)
Les Miserables
 is entirely sung through, giving it that feel of constantly heightened emotions. The characters go from the highest highs to the lowest lows in a matter of minutes. It's all very melodramatic, and very sincere. There's no place for cynicism in Les Miz, you just have to give in to it and let yourself be swept away by the emotions. And if you do, it's a thrilling, chills-inducing, tears-producing ride.

Nick Cartell is once again our Valjean, as he was the last time the tour was in town. As I wrote about him then, he "makes me believe Valjean is the best man that ever lived, so humble and strong and kind, but with very human doubts. And he has amazing control over his vocal instrument, going from a soft and gentle falsetto to an all out belt, giving every note so much emotion. So much emotion!" Hayden Tee's Javert is a strong adversary, and the two make a great duo. 

Christine Heesun Hwang as Eponine
(Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)
The entire cast is fantastic, from the smallest humans to the largest, from the hard-working ensemble to all of the featured and supporting roles, but I have to call out Minnetonka High School graduate and Spotlight Triple Threat Award winner Christine Heesun Hwang as Eponine. She is absolutely fantastic as the tough young woman who's secretly in love with someone who's in love with another, and she sings my favorite song from the show, "On My Own," with gorgeous vocals and believably heart-breaking emotion (you can read more about Christine's story in the StarTrib).

I don't really remember much of the original Broadway production/tour, but from what I understand there was a turntable involved. This production uses projections, but smartly and sparingly; it doesn't overdo it as can often happen. Most notably, the projections make you feel like you're wandering through the Paris underground as Valjean is dragging Marius to safety, and Javert's fall (spoiler alert) is truly spectacular. But don't worry, it's not all effects, there are still massive moving set pieces representing the town, inn, and of course the barricade (the playbill says: "set and image design by Matt Kinley inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo"). The production is huge and everything is perfectly executed, the big busy scenes nicely balanced with quiet moments. Last but not least, this gorgeous and rousing score sounds beautiful thanks to the dozen+ piece orchestra under the direction of Brian Eads.

the Act I finale "One Day More" is thrilling!
(Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)