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J. Mark McVey, Andrew Varela, and Cohorts Make Beautiful Music Together in “Les Misérables”

Jeremy Hays and Max Quinlan (center) play the fiery student revolutionaries Enjolras and Marius in "Les Misérables" (photo by Deen van Meer)

Jeremy Hays and Max Quinlan (center) play the fiery student revolutionaries Enjolras and Marius in "Les Misérables" (photo by Deen van Meer)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of our two reviews of Les Misérables. To read the other review by Dawn Reno Langley, click here.

Stop! Whatever plans you may have made for this weekend, cancel them. There is something better to do. Cameron Macintosh’s 25th Anniversary Tour of Les Misérables is in town at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and will be leaving after its 7:30 p.m. Sunday performance.

This joint presentation of Broadway Series South and the North Carolina Theatre is well worth the price of admission just to be able to hear J. Mark McVey as Jean Valjean sing “Bring Him Home” — truly a showstopper — but when you add Andrew Varela as Inspector Javert, Chasten Harmon as Éponine, Jeremy Hays as Enjolras, Shawna M. Hamic as Madame Thénardier, and Richard Vida as Thénardier, you have the opportunity to revel in something quite exquisite.

Of course, when you add an ensemble cast whose voices and energy fill the auditorium to coop you up and plunk you down you squarely in 19th century France, you have a chef d’oeuvre. There can be no better way to spend three hours in Raleigh this week.

The setting is France from 1815 to 1832, a span of years during which chain gangs were appropriate punishment for petty thievery, when discrimination ex-convicts and women ran rampant, and when having an illegitimate child was grounds for dismissal from your job. They were years when there was no middle class — only the haves and the have-nots — and when the populace was straining under one revolutionary government after another. It was also a time when swindlers, whores and pick-pockets abounded.

It is amongst this struggle and strife that 19th-century French novelist Victor Hugo set the intersecting stories of two men on opposite sides of the law, an ever-hopeful orphaned girl, a larcenous innkeeper and his wife who will do anything to strike it rich the easy way, a group of revolutionary students, a young lady who holds onto an unrequited love, and a pair of star-crossed lovers.

This new 25th Anniversary Production of Les Misérables, now in the second year of a three-year tour, puts a new spin (or rather takes it away) on set design for the classic Les Misérables. The stage is fixed, and instead of a turntable set, the art of Victor Hugo projected onto the back wall or a screen is employed to give a sense of motion.

Chasten Harmon portrays the Thénardiers’ daughter Éponine in "Les Misérables" (photo by Deen van Meer)

Chasten Harmon portrays the Thénardiers’ lovelorn daughter Éponine in "Les Misérables" (photo by Deen van Meer)

Scenic designer Matt Kinley’s set pieces emerge from the darkness behind and above, as well as from the sides of the stage. The cast acts around these changes when they occur within a scene for a cumulative effect of striking movement. It is an amazing feat that imparts a new experience for those who have seen previous productions and assists in the storytelling for those who have not.

One particularly interesting result of the loss of the turntable set is that there are several instances in which the majority of the figures have their backs to the audience. However, the sound is produced so well by Mick Potter that the voices are not diminished; and the direction by Laurence Connor and James Powell is such that the eye still has action to follow, and the acting continues to convey the attitudes intrinsic to the scene.

The Les Misérables orchestra, conducted by Robert Billig, is perfectly in sync with the actors. It subtly builds anticipation within the audience for the next turn of plot. Even with the fabulous score of Les Misérables, only a well-practiced, well-conducted, and adept orchestra like this one can manage to become part of the scenery.

Paule Constable’s lighting elements are also used to the best possible effect, with spotlights alternating above and below. Lampposts and candles illuminate the players even as they add to the mood.

Even if you are new to Les Miz, you will surely recognize some of the iconic songs. This cast is easily able to do full justice to the resplendent music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and English lyrics of Herbert Kretzmer, based on the original French lyrics by Schönberg and Alain Boublil.

Mark McVey is simply mesmerizing in the role of petty thief-turned-escaped convict Jean Valjean. His clear tenor voice resonates from the moment he sets foot on stage.

Andrew Varela’s voice as Inspector Javert intertwines with McVey’s to great effect as they play off each other to give meaning and purpose to their characters. Varela’s strong baritone carries the frustration and angst of Javert as he spends years searching for the elusive Valjean and struggles with the discrepancy between true justice and the law.

Juliana Simone raises a lilting voice as Little Cosette for “Castle on a Cloud,” exhibiting a youthful talent that will surely mature into full-blown stardom; and Chasten Harmon is a true gem. Her Éponine suffers first from her parents’ indiscrete behavior and then again from unrequited love Marius (Max Quinlan) as he falls in love with Cosette (Julie Benko) in “A Heart Full of Love.” Harmon’s keening in “A Little Fall of Rain” makes you want to reach out in comfort to Éponine.

In “Master of the House,” Shawna Hamic and Richard Vida show off their remarkable comic gifts as they are able to fully realize the despicable-yet-laughable Thénardiers. Hamic’s body language and expression are especially suited for communicating to the audience precisely how the Thénardiers view the world. The laughs provoked by Vida and Hamic only increase as they perform “Beggars at the Feast,” with the exaggerated stylings of a couple trying to pass themselves off as nobility.

Jeremy Hays’ depiction of the revolutionary leader Enjolras not only encourages the students towards revolution, but makes it impossible for the audience to not be caught up in the fervor driving them during “The People’s Song.”

Don’t miss Cameron Macintosh’s 25th Anniversary Tour of Les Misérables, which will play six more performances in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC. This joint North Carolina Theatre and Broadway Series South presentation is a musical for the ages.

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 12th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Tim Stevens: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/02/12/1845053/les-miserables-gets-the-emotions.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 10th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/02/dream-the-dream-les-miserables-returns-to-raleigh-memorial-auditorium-on-feb-14-19/.)

Broadway Series South and the North Carolina present LES MISÉRABLES at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 and 17 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 and 19 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $60.25-$135.75 (including fees).

BOX OFFICE:

Progress Energy Center Box Office: 919-996-8500 or info@progressenergycenter.com (information only).

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/34216.

SHOW: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/event/lesmiserables-354 and http://www.nctheatre.com/shows/les-miserables.

VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://www.lesmis.com/gallery/videos/19.

STUDY GUIDE: http://www.lesmis.com/education/study-guide/.

PRESENTERS:

Broadway Series South: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/broadway-series-south.

North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/.

NCT BLOG: http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.

VENUE: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/venue/memorial-auditorium.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/directions.

PARKING: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/parking.

NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 2 p.m. Feb. 18th performance.

OTHER LINKS:

The Musical: http://www.lesmis.com/ (official website), http://www.lesmis.com/home_usa.php (U.S. Tour), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Misérables_(musical) (Wikipedia), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=5340 (Internet Broadway Database).

U.S. Tour Cast and Creatives: http://www.lesmis.com/cast-and-creatives/ (official web page).

Cameron Macintosh: http://www.cameronmackintosh.com/ (official website).

J. Mark McVey: http://www.jmarkmcvey.com/ (official website).

Andrew Varela: http://www.andrewvarela.com/ (official website).

Julie Benko: http://broadwayworld.com/people/Julie_Benko/ (BroadwayWorld.com).

Max Quinlan: http://www.maxquinlan.net/ (official website).

Betsy Morgan: http://broadwayworld.com/people/Betsy_Morgan/ (BroadwayWorld.com).

Chasten Harmon: http://broadwayworld.com/people/Chasten_Harmon/ (BroadwayWorld.com).

Richard Vida: http://broadwayworld.com/people/Richard_Vida/ (BroadwayWorld.com).

Shawna M. Hamic: http://www.shawnahamic.com/ (official website).

Jeremy Hays: http://broadwayworld.com/people/Jeremy_Hays/ (BroadwayWorld.com).

The 2012 Film of the Musical: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Misérables_(2012_film) (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1707386/ (Internet Movie Database).

The Novel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Misérables (Wikipedia).

The Novel (e-text): http://openlibrary.org/works/OL1063591W/Les_Miserables (Open Library at the Internet Archive).

Victor Hugo: http://www.gavroche.org/vhugo/ (Victor Hugo Central, compiled by John Newmark), http://www.victorhugo.gg/ (the States of Guernsey’s Official Victor Hugo website), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Hugo (Wikipedia).

The France of Victor Hugo: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255/ (Robert Schwartz of Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Liz Alderson is a Raleigh, NC-based writer and reviewer. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review. To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Liz Aldersons Triangle Theater Review reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/liz-alderson/.

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