Few theatre fanatics are unfamiliar with the stage production based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel. For me, Les Miserables was the first musical I fell in love with. A few days ago my boyfriend took me to see it at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis.
Where do I begin with this review? Of course, I could go on and on about how cute the kids were, especially Gavroche. They did such a good job for their ages; I was thoroughly impressed.
Something interesting was the director’s decision to change the order of a couple of songs. The most impactful by far was putting “I Dreamed a Dream” in between “At the End of the Day” and “Lovely Ladies.” Typically, this is sung after “Lovely Ladies” to show how far Fantine has fallen. Instead, Fantine sang it after being fired from the factory but before giving up and selling her hair and body. The actress sang with more anger than sadness, transforming the song into something of a power ballad. Fantine was proclaiming that she had dreams and deserved better rather than lamenting the unattainability of said dreams. This made “Lovely Ladies” all the more tragic. Fantine had just sung about dreaming and wanting more for herself, angry at the world for denying her and ready to fight for her rights. Now, she was realizing that she did not have the power in her society to fight any more, and with her daughter being ill she didn’t have the freedom to refuse any offer of money.
While on the topic of specific songs/scenes which were impactful, I loved the way “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was blocked. As Marius, decrepit with a cane and bandages as he recovers from the barricade, sings surrounded by candles, the ghosts of his friends who died at the barricade came out. They didn’t use any cheesy makeup or effects to make the characters seem ghostly: just low lighting and silence. They at one point all snuffed out their candles in unison as the music crescendos, which was dynamic timing that sent chills down my spine. As the song ended and the dead friends slowly exited the stage, Marius raised a candle like he was giving a toast. It was beautifully staged.
Any discussion of the musical talent gathered to perform would be incomplete without mentioning the orchestra. The live musicians were absolutely phenomenal, like angels in the pit. Not a single instrumental note was out of tune, and the emotion behind the playing was as raw and real as the singing. As a former flutist, this was the type of performance I would have dreamed of giving. All of the non-acting talent deserves recognition for their own art.
The costumes and set designs were fantastic. They were sympathetic to what the audience would expect from a production of Les Miserables, so not groundbreaking choices that shocked the world, but still very good. There were some interesting effects toward the end that I wasn’t expecting. When Valjean was dragging Marius through the sewers, there was a tunnel projected on a screen in the background while the stage was filled with fog. This worked well but felt a little out of place, as there weren’t any other moments in the play that had video effects. The scene where Javert commits suicide was very cool. Again, it was almost out of place, but it was fantastic and exciting to watch. (I won’t give it away in case anyone reading this goes to the show, because the surprise element adds a lot).
The one thing I would have liked to have seen less of was the Thenadier’s. They were funny and hammed it up, but it was excessive. Either they could have changed the way they delivered a few lines (i.e. not deliver every single word with the over-the-top humor) or reduced their overall number of lines. A number of the jokes they made landed well, but they were too outlandish for the tone of the play.
Overall, this show was a delight to watch and I would highly recommend seeing it.