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'Les Miserables' is as entertaining as ever

| Thursday, Jan. 13, 2005

The musical "Les Miserables" is making its eighth stop in the city of Pittsburgh as it plays at the Benedum Center this week and whether you are a first-timer or a multi-returnee, the show holds its emotional impact amid the story and music.

The story involves thief Jean Valjean, who is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread is paroled but steals some silver from a priest who in turn, tells police that the silver was a gift. Valjean changes his life but in doing so breaks his parole and is pursued unmercifully by the police officer, Javert. Valjean becomes guardian of a young girl, Cosette, and raises her as his own. With the backdrop of a student-led revolution Cosette falls in love with Marius and Valjean helps bring the two together before a final confrontation with Javert.

In order to succeed in a production of the musical version of the Victor Hugo classic, there must be many quality voices in the cast, and this touring company has more than its share.

Randal Keith is excellent as Valjean and holds the audience in rapt attention as he gives his all on "Who Am I?" and the powerful "Bring Him Home" in the second act. He joins Fantine (Tonya Dixon) for the duet "Come to Me" and shares "In My Life" with Cosette (Leslie Henstock), Marius (Adam Jacobs) and Eponine (Melissa Lyons).

Understudy Trent Blanton stepped into the role of Javert on Tuesday and also displayed a powerful voice on "Stars" and his second act "Soliloquy" that were mesmerizing.

Others had moments to shine as Lyons performed "On My Own" and joined Henstock and Jacobs for "A Heart Full of Love."

Even the youngsters performed well as Nadine Jacobson, as the young Cosette, gives us "Castle on a Cloud" and Sean Gilbert is Gavroche, the young rebel, and sings "Look Down" with the beggars. Gilbert is a winner in the role.

David Benoit and Jennifer Butt are the Thenardiers and offer the comic relief of "Master of the House."

The show is song and story driven and does not rely on the intricate choreography of elaborate dance numbers or out of this world special effects.

Hugo's timeless story of redemption and life experiences is told through the powerful songs and the action of the actors and it doesn't matter if it's your first visit or fifth, it is a very engrossing theater experience.

This was at least my third visit to the show and it seemed even more impressive than before.

The sets are lacking in color but it seems to add to the despair the citizens of 19th century France faced. White spotlights highlight various actors in scenes and most of the color is reserved for some of the costumes but most are drab brown, adding to the feeling of despair.

"Les Miserables" is three hours of solid musical theater that passes very quickly but holds an emotional impact with the best of them.

It contiues through Sunday at the Benedum Center.

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