The North American Tour of Les Misérables opened at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) to a full house of people ready to be swept away by the familiar, beloved music and grandeur of one of the longest-running and most-treasured shows in history. They were not disappointed.
Les Misérables is a great night of theater. This cast is fantastic, the costumes sublime, and Matt Kinley’s set and the staging by co-directors Laurence Connor and James Powell, with assistance from Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt, creates a world of darkness and despair in one second and bawdy revelry in the next. The incorporated video projections created from Victor Hugo’s own artwork impart a depth and reality to each scene but really bring something special to the post-battle-sewer-escape and final-desperate-act-of-Javert scenes. I heard a couple of people whisper, “Oh, that’s cool,” during those two scenes.
The battle on the barricade is superb; and while the sounds and smells of gunfire are clearly staged, it might be an issue for someone dealing with combat-related stress, so be aware of that.
As for the music, the music is like an out-of-body experience, lifting you up and up until you grieve for everyone not in the room with you — everyone at home watching prevaricating politicians on TV and missing music so beautiful that you are certain it could never be duplicated (but most certainly will every day and twice a day if there is a matinee). At least three times, the hair on my arms stood up in a dopamine-fueled frisson response to voices that seem too clear, too strong, and too amazing to belong to actual mortals.
The only criticism that I have for the entire show is that there were several times in the first half that the music overpowered the singer, and I could not discern the lyrics. A group of women waiting in line in front of me during the intermission remarked on this too, so it might be worth tweaking the audio.
Based on Victor Hugo’s classic work on poverty, rebellion, and redemption, the story centers around Jean Valjean, played brilliantly by Nick Cartell, who takes the character from a vigorous young man to a frail old one very convincingly. The show opens with Valjean being freed from 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. It is important to his character to note that the sentence was for five years, plus additional years for trying to escape. Valjean is forced to carry a card identifying him as a parolee and, because of this “branding,” finds starting a new life impossible.
He finds work on a farm, but is let go when his status as an ex-con becomes known. When he goes to collect his money, he discovers he has been paid a great deal less than other men despite having done the same work. They tell him, “Why should you get the same pay as an honest man like me?”
The unspoken question being, “How can consider yourself my equal?” And isn’t this the origin of all wars and suffering since the beginning of time? People unwilling to accept that every person could be as valuable as themselves?
Destitute, Valjean is offered food, shelter, and kindness by the Bishop of Digne, whom he promptly robs. When he is caught and brought before the bishop, the Bishop tells the police that no theft has occurred and he has indeed given Valjean the objects. The holy man secures a promise from Valjean to use the silver and the forgiveness to make himself, “a good man.”
Jumping forward eight years, Valjean has indeed been born anew into a respected businessman and mayor. Unfortunately, he doesn’t realize that the foreman running his business is a sexual predator victimizing his female employees, who accept this abuse as the price of putting food on the table. Enter Fantine, a beautiful young single mother who endures the foreman’s pawing and the cruelty of the other women, because she has a young daughter and is sending money to an innkeeper and his wife for her care.
The “At the End of the Day” factory scene will hit any woman right in the #metoo movement, “Have you seen how the Foreman is fuming today? With his terrible breath and his wandering hands?”
Melissa Mitchell’s rendition of, “I Dreamed a Dream” is worth the price of admission alone, but there is so much more to her performance. After Fantine’s secret child is discovered, and she is thrown out on the street, she sells her locket, her hair, and then finally herself to make enough money to send for medicine for her beloved Cosset. Mitchell makes you feel Fantine’s fear, desperation, and anger as she loses everything save for the fire of motherly love that sustains her to her last breath.
The show isn’t all sadness, there is a villainous policeman Javert, played by the commanding Josh Davis, standout performances by Monté J. Howell and Sarah Cetrulo as the comedically rotten innkeepers, and a spirited and heartbreaking performance by understudy Talia Simon Robinson as the lowborn Éponine, who loves the idealistic Marius (Joshua Grosso). If all that that weren’t enough, there is an ill-fated rebellion that is just majestic!
This show has something for everyone, but the themes are adult. Some of the overt sexual jokes and actions go by very quickly and will likely be missed by kids, who will enjoy the music, dancing, and battle scenes in this iconic production.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 1st Raleigh, NC Talkin’ Broadway: Raleigh/Durham review by Garrett Southerland: https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/rd/rd38.html; Jan. 31st Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-LES-MISERABLES-National-Tour-at-Durham-Performing-Arts-Center-20180131 and Jan. 24th BWW TV interview with actor Joshua Grosso, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-Joshua-Grosso-of-LES-MISERABLES-National-Tour-20180124; and Jan. 31st Burlington, NC Times-News review by Rachel Teseneer for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/les-miserables-is-an-astonishing-spectacle/ and Jan. 26th preview by Rachel Teseneer for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/childhood-dream-come-true-elon-university-graduate-a-part-of-les-mis-tour/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 30th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/01/les-misrables-at-dpac-will-breathes-new-glorious-life-into-victor-hugos-larger-than-life-characters/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents LES MISÉRABLES at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1, 8 p.m. Feb. 2, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 3, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 4 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $30 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/34216.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://vimeo.com/207474083.
DPAC‘S 2017-18 “TEN GREAT YEARS” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2017-18 and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/announcing-suntrust-broadway-at-dpac-2017-2018-season.
THE TOUR: http://lesmiz.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/les-misrables–514820, https://www.facebook.com/LesMizUS, https://twitter.com/LesMizUS, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1NLVgsoQZCCzw_3-J9O2Gg.
TOUR CAST & CREATIVES: http://lesmiz.com/cast-creatives.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3rd, performance.
Les Misérables (1862 historical novel): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Mis%C3%A9rables (Wikipedia).
The Novel (e-text): http://openlibrary.org/works/OL1063591W/Les_Miserables (Open Library at the Internet Archive).
Victor Hugo (French novelist, 1802-85) 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).
Les Misérables (1980 Paris, 1985 West End, and 1987 Broadway musical): http://www.lesmis.com/ (official website), https://www.mtishows.com/les-miserables (Music Theatre International: 2009 UK Tour Version), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/les-misrables-5340 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Mis%C3%A9rables_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: https://www.bard.org/study-guides/les-miserables-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
Claude-Michel Schönberg (music): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/claude-michel-schnberg-4864 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude-Michel_Sch%C3%B6nberg (Wikipedia).
Alain Boublil (French lyrics and book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/alain-boublil-3932 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alain_Boublil (Wikipedia).
Jean-Marc Natel (French text): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jean-marc-natel-72569 (Internet Broadway Database).
Herbert Kretzmer (English lyrics): http://www.herbertkretzmer.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/herbert-kretzmer-13012 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Kretzmer (Wikipedia).
Trevor Nunn (English book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/trevor-nunn-15788 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trevor_Nunn (Wikipedia).
John Caird (English book): http://www.johncaird.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/john-caird-14350 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Caird_%28director%29 (Wikipedia).
James Fenton (additional material): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/james-fenton-72570 (Internet Broadway Database).
Les Misérables (2012 film) http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1707386/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Mis%C3%A9rables_%282012_film%29 (Wikipedia).
Laurence Connor (co-director): http://www.laurenceconnor.co.uk/ (official website), http://wp.lesmis.com/broadway/about/cast-and-creatives/laurence-connor/ (Les Misérables bio), and https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/laurence-connor-494838 (Internet Broadway Database).
James Powell (co-director): http://wp.lesmis.com/broadway/about/cast-and-creatives/james-powell/ (Les Misérables bio) and https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/james-powell-494839 (Internet Broadway Database).
Nicole Noel is a former U.S. Army journalist-turned-Technical Knowledge Manager, with a love for the arts. At age seven, she wrote her first story on the wall of her basement after being told the family might have to move: “There once was a girl named Nicole who had a dog named Rat and they lived in this house.” She liked the way that you could capture a moment in a sentence, and still does. These days Nicole lives with her daughter, and a dog named Buffy, in a house in Fuquay-Varina. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.