Perhaps like no other musical, Les Miserables captures the essence of human tragedy and human triumph, simultaneously. Set in the 1820s and spanning nearly two decades, Victor Hugo’s French tale regales the journey of one man’s redemption, the shape of one man’s obsession and the tenacity of love in a time of war.
After serving nineteen years for stealing bread for his starving sister and nephew, Jean Valjean (J. Mark McVey) is finally freed, reluctantly released by an especially cruel jailer Javert (Andrew Varela). Fortified by the philosophy, once a thief, always a thief
Literally branded a convict, he is shunned everywhere he goes until he is taken in for the night be a man of God, Bishop of Digne (Benjamin Magnuson). After Valjean is caught by townspeople stealing away in the night with the bishop’s silver, the Bishop refuses to prosecute Valjean, and instead insists that he gave Valjean the silver. He tells Valjean that he has now purchased his soul with that silver and that he now belongs to God. The act of mercy changes Valjean and his path to redemption has being illuminated.
A decade of rebuilding his life sees Valjean the fair and pious mayor of a small town where he owns a factory. Unbeknownst to him, his plant manager abuses his power and there is an archaic rule against young women who have children. One such woman, Fantine (Betsy Morgan) after being fired from her job, sells her hair and takes up prostitution in order to get money to send to the take cares of her daughter. It is in this seamy world that Valjean rescues her, and that his path once again crosses with the tyrannical Javert.
Javert figures out that Valjean is the parole jumping ex-convict on the heels of Fantine’s death, just as she bequests the care of her young daughter Cosette to Valjean.
Valjean journeys to a sleazy tavern where Cosette’s caretakers, Madame Thénardier (Shawna M. Hamic) and husband Thénardier (Michael Kostroff) release Custody of of the child, for the right price. Once again, Valjean goes on the run to escape the punitive arm of the law; this time in the role of father.
Time passes once again and the unrest of French society is palpable. The divide between the haves and the have-nots is escalating to dangerous levels. And a sheltered, teenaged Cosette (Jenny Latimer) is smitten during a brief chance meeting with a student involved in the rebellion against the government. It is love at first sight for Marius (Justin Scott Brown) as well. Eponine (Chasten Harmon) is the streetwise childhood friend to Marius who is deeply in love with him, but whom he has never seen as more.
A student rebellion rises just as Javert has once again found Valjean. All at once the clash between rebel and soldier, between policeman and ex-convict march toward inevitable explosion.
Every once in a while, a show comes along for which hyperbole is simply not enough. This is one such show. The opening prologue masterfully sets the tone for an extraordinary evening of music and high drama. The layers of complexity in this production are remarkable. Cameron Macintosh’s spectacular New Production of Les Miserable is indeed that – spectacular. A big slice of Broadway has been brought to the Ahmanson Theatre. The level of grandeur in this production is astonishing. I truly had goose-bumps the entire time; that is of course when I was not bawling.
The production design is majestic in scale and striking in its versatility. Just as effective is the impressive three-dimensional scenic and image design. Shawna M. Hamic and Michael Kostroff as the conniving Thénardier Couple offset the weighty drama with brilliant comic performances. Jaw-dropping performances were given by all including Chasten Harmon, Justin Scott Brown and Andrew Varela. Every moment, every note of J. Mark McVey’s performance was simply breathtaking.
Cameron Mackintosh's 25th Anniversary production of Boublil & Schonberg's Les Misérables was a phenomenal night of theatre. It runs now through July 13, 2001.
Do not miss this show!
at the Music Center in
Downtown Los Angeles
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Photo Credit: Deen van Meer