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For 25 years, the musical production of Les Miserables has been wowing audiences around the world with it’s epic depiction of Victor Hugo’s classic novel. After breaking countless records, including the world’s longest-running musical, Cameron Mackintosh is celebrating the 25th anniversary by repurposing the play into something far beyond what it ever was before. Feeling like the musical-theatre equivalent of a summer blockbuster, this version of Les Miserables hardly ever slows down, featuring some of the most exhilirating setpieces I’ve seen on stage.
With literally no non-musical dialogue, the music has to drive the story from beginning to end. Covering a timespan of several years, and featuring a massive cast, there is a lot of information to be absorbed. However, the music is so powerful and drives the story forward so effortlessly, it’s almost impossible not to get caught up in the conflicts of this world.
While there are some truly great roles in this story, the characters at the heart of the production are Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert. The story revolves around these two and their decades-long conflict. Without strong performers in these roles, the play just wouldn’t work. There needs to be an intensity between them to push everything else forward. Peter Lockyer and Andrew Varela each give performances of a lifetime in their roles as Valjean and Javert, respectively.
That isn’t to shortchange the rest of the cast. There isn’t a weak link in the group, with every performer perfectly suited to their roles. I’ve seen a lot of plays in my life, and this might be one of the most perfect casts I’ve ever seen. It’s as if everybody on stage is as inspired by the theatrical wizardry as we are in awe watching it.
The production begins very suddenly, with a bombastic musical number throwing the audience right into things. The music of the orchestra booms through the theatre as we witness Valjean’s release from imprisonment, subsequent thevery, recapture and spiritual awakening, all within the first 10 minutes or so. This goes into the title of the production projected onto the backdrop, again as if watching a Summer blockbuster.
The backdrop actually plays a pivotal role in the production throughout. Projecting moving depictions of Hugo’s original illustrations, I was afraid when I read about this that it would prove distracting. While some of the images are more literal than others, they always perfectly encapsulate the desired mood of the sequence. One of my favorite uses of this device is a sewer escape that utilizes the backdrop to perfectly depict an epic journey through these underground tunnels.
Normally, these backdrops would be enough, but they simply serve to enhance the staging with expertly utilized sets and lighting. Throw in amazingly detailed costume work and an orchestra with a far fuller sound than I’ve ever heard in live theater and you have a uniquely great theatrical experience. The Segerstrom Center for the Arts will be hosting this production from June 12-June 24, and tickets start as low as $40. Even if you you’ve seen Les Miserables before, you’ve never seen it like this.