Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s Tony Award-winning “Les Miserables,” one of the most internationally beloved musicals of our time adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo, returns to Dayton as a freshly reconceived epic impressively heightened by an outstanding array of vocal and visual pleasures.
This 25th anniversary production, presented at the Schuster Center courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association’s Good Samaritan and Miami Valley Hospitals Broadway Series, uniquely shines without the familiar trademarks “Les Mis” audiences have grown accustomed to such as the revolving turntable or Trevor Nunn and John Caird’s original whirlwind stagecraft. Co-directors Laurence Connor and James Powell, firmly intent to keep the action just under three hours, refreshingly dial down any morsel of spectacle to effectively place the libretto and score front and center with a great sense of urgency that serves the sweeping if melodramatic tale, which chronicles the redemptive journey of ex-convict Jean Valjean in 19th century France. Connor and Powell, embracing the novel idea of color blind casting, have particularly found new ways to approach the emotional potency that fills practically every scene. For example, in “Turning,” the women of Paris remember the fallen rebels by placing candles on the ground which are subsequently carried away by the deceased men during the haunting “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” passionately rendered by Max Quinlan as Marius. The production’s conceptual allure extends to the evocative contributions of set designer Matt Kinley whose work, inspired by Hugo’s paintings, nicely compliments the action rather than appearing showy or distracting. Fifty-Nine Productions is responsible for a striking series of cinematic projections which rank among the finest I have seen since viewing the Broadway premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s short-lived “The Woman in White” in 2005. The fantastic sight of the sewers in Act 2 alone is worth the price of admission.
Authentically clothed by Tony winner Andreane Neofitou with additional designs by Christine Rowland, the uniformly terrific cast, clearly propelling the sung-through score to spine-tingling proportions under the steady guidance of musical director Robert Billig, avoids bombastic urges with sharp, expressive portrayals. Sublime tenor J. Mark McVey, an appealing source of conviction, warmth and vitality as Valjean, duly receives the biggest applause of the night for his absolutely heartfelt rendition of the signature tune “Bring Him Home,” initially interpreted as a pensive lullaby yet climaxing as a powerful plea. Robust baritone Andrew Varela is an excellently imposing presence as Inspector Javert, Valjean’s relentless nemesis. Chasten Harmon, a heartbreaking Eponine, delivers a dynamically poignant “On My Own” and an equally stunning “A Little Fall of Rain” so gripping you will feel every inch of Eponine’s tragic fate. As the delightfully dastardly Thenardiers, Richard Vida and a particularly magnetic Shawna M. Hamic breezily insert a few comical Fagin-esque twists and turns into their rousing version of “Master of the House.” Jenny Latimer, as Cosette, creates a strong bond with Quinlan. Jeremy Hays, a fiery Enjolras, leads a stellar “Do You Hear The People Sing.” Understudy Cornelia Luna, as the ill-fated Fatine, supplies a beautifully sincere rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” Lucia Giannetta briefly dazzles opposite Luna as an outspoken Factory Girl.
“Les Mis” purists might have qualms with the artistic makeover on display, but the material, a richly woven tapestry of faith, forgiveness, love, loss, and valiance, certainly remains as captivating and compelling as ever.
“Les Miserables” continues through November 27 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets. Performances are Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Act One: 93 minutes; Act Two: 65 minutes. Tickets are $40-$101. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com