OK – It is probably not kosher to admit, but I had to hi-tail it home to Wikipedia because I couldn’t figure out what was going on in this story. I appear to be the one New Yorker who missed this show – not a musical but an operetta I think – the first time and the second time it was here. Third time is a charm I guess. Anyway, what I did understand was that there was a ton of unrequited love. People died too young. Folks were being victimized. Children were tossed into the streets. All in all it was a Bad Day in Black Rock, but everyone had a song in their hearts so all was not lost.
Nineteen years before our story starts, Jean Valjean (Ramin Karimloo) stole a loaf of bread and life was never the same. No matter what he did or how hard he worked, this criminal act followed him all his life. It especially follows him in the person of Javert (Will Swenson) a man of the law who will not let Valjean rest. In spite of this, after a rocky start when he is released from prison in 1815, Valjean does his best to lead a life worthy of a saint. He raises a child not his own when he discovers that Fantine (Caissie Levy), a woman in his employ, lost her job because she was found to have an illegitimate child. The daughter Cosette (Samantha Hill) was being “cared for” and mostly abused by innkeepers. (This is the child in the show’s artwork, based on Portrait of “Cosette” by Emile Bayard, from the original edition of Les Misérables). When Fontine dies, Valjean takes in Cosette. Years later he fights in the resistance, and rescues a young man Marius (Andy Mientus) by carrying him through the sewers to safety. When Javert is discovered as a spy behind the barricades, Valjean offers to execute him but instead frees him. Eventually his goodness outweighs the other circumstances so heavily that Javert repents by killing himself.
On the love side Marius falls for Cosette, thereby breaking the heart of Éponine (Nikki M. James) who will end up sacrificing her own life so that Marius may live.
All of this takes place with the backdrop of the 1832 June rebellion in Paris. There are flags flown, stirring speeches, songs and gunshots (terrific sound effects) galore.
Each of the featured characters has their moment center stage, literally, and the voices are so grand that at time it seemed like a contest with the audience applause meter ready to rock after each number. There are several iconic songs I Dreamed A Dream (I still like Susan Boyle better), On My Own, One Day More. But the showstopper was a ballad, Bring Him Home, sung with such tenderness by Karimloo that it broke our collective hearts. You could almost hear them shatter.
In the end Marius and Collette get married and Valjean passes on to a better place. All is well with the world, and another revolution is fomenting in another country. The Ukraine perhaps. While this production is not memorable in any way, it will please the generation who has grown up with American Idol, and it might make the rest of us reflect on the political revolutions being carried on all over the world. Those folks may not be so pretty, and they may not have great songs, but they are out there still. Things don’t change as much as they shift locations.
Les Misérables — Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, additional material by James Fenton; adaptation by Trevor Nunn and John Caird; based on the novel by Victor Hugo; directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell
WITH: Joshua Colley or Gaten Matarazzo (Gavroche), Emily Cramer (Old Woman), Natalie Charle Ellis (Wigmaker), Jason Forbach (Feuilly), Nathaniel Hackmann (Constable/Foreman/Courfeyrac), Samantha Hill (Cosette), Nikki M. James (Éponine), Ramin Karimloo (Jean Valjean), Andrew Kober (Innkeeper/Babet), Caissie Levy (Fantine), Chris McCarrell (Laborer/Fauchelevent/Joly), Andy Mientus (Marius), Dennis Moench (Farmer/Claquesous), Adam Monley (Bishop of Digne/Combeferre), Betsy Morgan (Factory Girl), Angeli Negron or McKayla Twiggs (Little Cosette/Young Éponine), Max Quinlan (Jean Prouvaire), John Rapson (Bamatabois/Grantaire/Major Domo), Terance Cedric Reddick (Lesgles), Arbender J. Robinson (Constable/Montparnasse), Cliff Saunders (Thénardier), Kyle Scatliffe (Enjolras), Keala Settle (Madame Thénardier), Will Swenson (Javert), Christianne Tisdale (Innkeeper’s Wife), and Aaron Walpole (Champmathieu/Brujon/Loud Hailer).
Original orchestrations by John Cameron, new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker; lighting by Paule Constable; costumes by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland; set and image design by Matt Kinley, inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo; musical supervisor, Mr. Brooker; associate director, Anthony Lyn; musical director, James Lowe; executive producers, Nicholas Allott and Seth Sklar-Heyn; general manager, Aaron Lustbader for Foresight Theatrical; musical staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt; projections by Fifty-Nine Productions; sound by Mick Potter. Presented by Cameron Mackintosh. At the Imperial Theater, 249 West 45th Street, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com. Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes.