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Review: Stage version of 'Les Mis' worth the trip

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 11:22 a.m.
Andrew Varela plays Javert in the stage version of 'Les Miserables.' Deen van Meer
Briana Carlson-Goodman is Eponine in 'Les Miserables.' Deen van Meer
The 25th anniversary tour of 'Les Miserables' stars Peter Lockyer as Jean Valjean. Deen van Meer.
The company performs 'Master of the House' in the new 25th anniversary production of 'Les Miserables' Deen van Meer

REVIEW

So much “Les Mis,” so little time.

Granted, there are really only two entertainment options vying for our attention.

You could count the original Victor Hugo novel or the several dozen films that range from silent black-and-white to made-for-TV versions.

But for most area arts lovers, the choices of the moment are the star-struck big-screen “Les Miserables” with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, and Cameron Macintosh's restaged 25th anniversary touring production of “Les Miserables,” which is playing through Jan. 27 at the Benedum Center, Downtown.

With either option coming in at about two hours and 30 minutes, some may think double dipping might be too much of a good thing.

For many theatergoers, the question may be: Is this production of “Les Miserables” worth the trip Downtown?

Lots of people appear to think so.

Advance ticket sales have exceeded expectations. More importantly, the crowds exiting the nearly-full house after Tuesday's opening seemed to think they had received good value for their money.

This epic story spins out over 17 years and multiple locations as the morally rigid and relentless Inspector Javert pursues and harasses Jean Valjean, a former convict reformed into an honorable businessman across early 19th-century France.

It requires a huge cast of almost three dozen characters, some of whom die or transform from children into adults or join the story in progress. That requires doubling and tripling of roles for some cast members. But it's done without it being noticeable.

Producer Macintosh celebrated the musical's 25th anniversary by revamping it with new sets that lend freshness and urgency to the story.

The legendary turntable and pivoting barricade construction have been scrapped. In their places are new sets by Matt Kinley, with moody backdrops inspired by Victor Hugo's paintings for some scenes. Other locations, such as those in the sewers of Paris, are done with projections that move as the actors travel through them. The barricade for the student-led rebellion, while no less monumental than the original, now has a deliberate flatness that resembles a tableau in an historic painting.

Paul Constable pinpoints dramatic deaths with shafts of white light that appear to be beaming people up to another plane of existence.

Christopher Jahnke created new orchestrations for Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer's score. Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker supplied additional orchestrations and more than a dozen musicians filled the pit.

Every character in this show has big objectives to overcome or achieve. But, it often feels as though there's pressure on them to rush through their through-sung dialogues and solos to keep up the pacing and shorten the run time.

It's particularly noticeable in the Thenardiers' hyperactive “Master of the House” scramble.

Some of the best moments in the show are when principal players slow down.

That's when Peter Lockyer's Jean Valjean and Andres Varela's Javert do their best vocal work with their solos, most notably Varela's “Stars” and Lockyer's “Bring Him Home” that are as articulate as they are well-voiced.

This time around, though, what made the biggest impressions were the stories of the younger characters.

Lauren Wiley's grownup Cosette, Devin Ilaw's Marius and Briana Carlson-Goodman's Eponine hit the harmonious notes and the conflicting emotions of “A Heart Full of Love.” Carlson-Goodman nailed the sentiments of “On My Own,” as did Ilaw with “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

Ultimately, it comes with strengths, changes and enhancements that make it worth another look.

You may have seen other productions of “Les Miserables,” but don't let that stop you from seeing this production of “Les Miserables.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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