×

Broadway Review: ‘Les Miserables’

This reverential revival of the long-runner Broadway hit is a solid piece of theatrical architecture.

With:

Ramin Karimloo, Will Swenson, Caissie Levy, Nikki M. James, Andy Mientus, Samantha Hill, Cliff Saunders, Keala Settle, Kyle Scatliffe.

Les Miserables” is back, and those irreverent satirists at Forbidden Broadway must be licking their chops. There’s no clunky turntable to mock in this reverential revival of the barnburner musical that Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg shrewdly fashioned from the classic Victor Hugo novel, which ran for 16 years on Broadway. But those excitable French revolutionaries are still storming the barricades, marching in place and singing at the top of their lungs. And unlike the tentative 2006 revival, this one is a solid piece of theatrical architecture, built to survive every critical arrow shot through its heart.

Audiences go to musical comedies to laugh themselves silly. But when they go to musical plays, they want to be stirred by melody and shaken with emotion. Like it or not (and it’s always been more of an audience show than one for the critics), that’s what “Les Miz” delivers — beautiful melodies and unbridled emotions.

The emotion that thunders through the house in song after song is rage. The heroic Jean Valjean, played with great conviction and in ringing voice by Ramin Karimloo, rages (in “Soliloquy”) at the unjust law that cast him in penal servitude for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. The fanatical Inspector Javert, who comes alive in Will Swenson’s fiercely passionate performance, rages against the fugitive Valjean in “Stars,” swearing to re-capture him, in the sacred name of the law, if it takes the rest of his life.

The third source of rage is the collective fury of Enjolras (Kyle Scatliffe, an extraordinarily imposing figure) and his fellow students, who launch the ill-fated Paris Uprising of 1832 to protest (in “The People’s Song”) the appalling social conditions under the provisional French monarchy.

Whenever these angry passions ease up, pain and anguish rush in to keep the emotional pitch high. The tragic Fantine (Caissie Levy) suffers and dies (in “Fantine’s Death”) on behalf of all the poor women forced to sell their bodies to survive. Brave Eponine (Nikki M. James) suffers (in “On My Own”) from her unrequited love for Marius (Andy Mientus), a student revolutionary, and dies saving his life in street battle. And helpless children like Fantine’s orphaned daughter, Cosette (played by the lovely soprano Samantha Hill), suffer at the hands of predatory thieves like the evil Thenardier (Cliff Saunders).

Fueled by rage and fired by wholesale suffering, the narrative of “Les Miz” is about as dark as it gets in musical theater. But it’s the heroic scale and epic sweep that intensify the darkness, and the directorial hand of helmers Laurence Connor and James Powell that makes it so relentless.

The design palette is limited to gray on black — the universal colors of deep depression — with only a flash of red in the giant flag that the rebels carry to the barricade. In this lead-coffin context, Paule Constable’s murky lighting design is quite beautiful, as are the stunning projections (realized by Fifty-Nine Prods.) that provide a brooding backdrop for dramatic scenes of Valjean running for his life in the sewers of Paris, and Javier standing on a moonlit bridge and contemplating his fate.

The folly of this revival is allowing this thematic darkness to overwhelm the whole production and the raging emotions to color every single musical number. Perhaps not every last one: The night before the battle, Karimloo is allowed a still moment so Valjean can sing the heartbreaking “Bring Him Home” without having the mood destroyed. And after the battle has been fought and lost, Mientus’ Marius is left to quietly contemplate the loss of his friends in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

But like the overwrought sung-through recitative, the songs are mostly delivered at high decibels. Even Eponine’s despairing “On My Own” escalates from mournful reflection to belting brassiness. Technically and stylistically, this is quite a good show and sure to please the fans. It doesn’t really need to twist and shout to be heard.

Popular on Variety

Broadway Review: 'Les Miserables'

Imperial Theater; 1409 seats; $147 top. Opened March 23, 2014. Reviewed March 20. Running time: 3 HOURS.

Production:

A Cameron Mackintosh presentation of a new production of a musical in two acts by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, based on a novel by Victor Hugo, with a book by Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel, music by Schonberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, in an adaptation by Trevor Nunn, John Caird, with additional material by James Fenton.

Creative:

Directed by Laurence Connor, James Powell. Musical staging by Michael Ashcroft, Geoffrey Garratt. Sets and images, Matt Kinley, inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo; costumes, Andreane Neofitou; lighting, Paule Constable; sound, Mick Potter; projections, Fifty-Nine Prods.; original orchestrations, John Cameron; new orchestrations, Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe, and Stephen Brooker; musical supervisor, Stephen Brooker; musical director, James Lowe; production stage manager, Trinity Wheeler.  

Cast:

Ramin Karimloo, Will Swenson, Caissie Levy, Nikki M. James, Andy Mientus, Samantha Hill, Cliff Saunders, Keala Settle, Kyle Scatliffe.

More Legit

  • The Lightning Thief review musical

    Broadway Review: 'The Lightning Thief,' The Musical

    “It’s a lot to take in right now,” says Percy Jackson, the teen hero of “The Lightning Thief,” the kid-centric fantasy musical (based on the popular Y.A. novel) that’s now on Broadway after touring the country and playing an Off Broadway run. You could say that’s a bit of an understatement from contemporary teen Percy [...]

  • The Rose Tattoo review

    Broadway Review: 'The Rose Tattoo' Starring Marisa Tomei

    “The Rose Tattoo” is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina [...]

  • Obit-Roy-B

    Former NATO President Roy B. White Dies at 93

    Roy B. White, former president and chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, died of natural causes Oct. 11 in Naples, Fla. He was 93. White ran the 100-screen independent theater circuit, Mid–States Theaters Inc. In addition to his career, he did extensive work on behalf of charities and non-profits. He was vice president [...]

  • Soft Power review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Soft Power'

    The “culture-clash musical” is a familiar template, in which a white American protagonist — waving the flag of individuality, optimism and freedom — trumps and tramps over the complexities of that which is foreign, challenging or “other.” David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s “Soft Power,” the new “play with a musical” at Off Broadway’s Public [...]

  • Jagged Little Pill Business of Broadway

    Listen: How 'Jagged Little Pill' Will Rock Broadway

    “Jagged Little Pill” wasn’t originally written with Broadway in mind — but the songs on Alanis Morissette’s smash-hit 1995 album do exactly what good musical theater songs should do, according to the upcoming show’s creators and producers. Listen to this week’s podcast below: The team explained why on Variety‘s theater podcast, “Stagecraft,” in an episode [...]

  • Stephen Moore

    Stephen Moore, 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' Android, 'Doctor Who' Actor, Dies at 81

    Stephen Moore, best known for his roles as the paranoid android Marvin in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” radio series and the Silurian Eldane in “Doctor Who,” has died. He was 81. “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” producer Dirk Maggs confirmed Moore’s death Saturday on Twitter, writing, “Our dear friend Stephen Moore has [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content