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Cameron Mackintosh’s Heartbreaking Epic Les Mis Once Again Wows DPAC Crowds

Former Jean Valjean Nick Cartell sings “Bring Him Home” (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Even if you’ve seen Les Misérables hundreds of times, it’s always a joy when the production is a great one — and the one playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center through Sunday, March 15th, is one of the best! With soaring voices, incredible sets, and dramatic lighting, NETworks Presentations LLC’s new national tour of Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Tony Award®-winning Broadway musical delighted a full house on opening night, in spite of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s call for a state of emergency to cope with the coronavirus only hours before.

The story, stolen from the annals of history, is about love, faith, and freedom or, in the words of the French revolutionaries: liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity). The great French author Victor Hugo’s novel, first published in 1862, about a man jailed for 19 years over stealing bread to feed his family narrates one of the most heartbreaking stories in French history.

Tracked down by the over-zealous police officer — Inspector Javert, played by Preston Truman Boyd, the man (Jean Valjean, played by Patrick Dunn) is one of the most giving human beings in all of literature. The narrative of his life is what editors in New York today call ” high concept fiction,” meaning that the story has the potential to reach a wide and diverse audience. Within two months of its publication, Hugo’s novel had sold 100,000 copies, and the sales of his novel continue to rise, with millions more buying the book every year.

This iteration of the show includes sets designed by Matt Kinley and inspired by Hugo’s own artwork. Kinley, who has worked all over the world to design productions with Cameron Macintosh, redesigned Les Mis for its 25th anniversary in 2009 and updated this legendary show for the current U.S. tour.

The new national tour of Les Misérables, now playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center, formerly starred Josh Davis (left) as Inspector Javert and Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean (photo by Matthew Murphy)

This production also benefits from some of the best and most dramatic stage lighting of any show that’s appeared at DPAC. Paule Constable, the lighting designer, has designed productions in the U.K. and has also received Tony Awards for other productions, four Olivier Awards, and many others. His work on this production often elicits gasps or murmurs of pure delight from the audience.

But the true stars of the evening are the incredible voices in this show. Each of the main characters is portrayed by actors who command the stage and none of them misses a beat or the chance for their voices to soar past the rafters. Even the ensemble singers’ voices are powerhouses, and it is that level of talent and passion that one needs for this grimy, haunting story about the soul’s need for freedom and love.

Many of the songs in the production are well-known favorites, such as “I Dreamed a Dream,” sung by Fantine, the pure and vulnerable young mother who has fallen into a life of poverty and prostitution. Olivia Dei Cicchi’s delicate handling of the character elicits empathy from the audience, and her control over her voice squeezes every drop of emotion from the recognizable anthem. Both physically and musically, she embodies the lovely Fantine.

Jean Valjean (Dunn) ranges from frenetic to loving to broken, but his voice is always earth-shatteringly powerful with a richness and range that the rags-to-riches character demands. Solos like “Who Am I?” and “Bring Him Home,” demand both grit and sensitivity, delivered by an explosive voice. Dunn has all that and then some.

Jimmy Smagula (top center) as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier sing “Master of the House” in the new national tour of Les Misérables, playing DPAC through Sunday, March 15th, (photo by Evan Zimmerman)

The protagonist in this production, Inspector Javert (played by Preston Truman Boyd), is drawn so effectively by Hugo that we can both hate and love him. Javert’s enforcing the law; but he’s also a human simply doing his job; and when the pain of what he’s done overcomes him, we sympathize with his choice. Boyd’s interpretation of Javert convinces us why he’s an audience favorite. Full-chested, soaring notes brught roaring approval from the packed audience last night.

Hugo did not forget the love story in his epic tale; and when Marius (Joshua Grosso) and Cosette (Jillian Butler) fight for the right to be in love, Éponine (Phoenix Best) gets her heart broken, because she’s forced to the sidelines. Their trio offers “A Heart Full of Love,” with a plaintitive soprano from Cosette, a fiery and independent response from Éponine, and a determined, lovestruck baritone from Marius. It’s not difficult to imagine this tragic love triangle, because all three of them are emotionally connected to each other.

The cast of DPAC‘s March 11-15 presentation of Les Misérables includes (from left) Joshua Grosso as Marius, Phoenix Best as Éponine, and Jillian Butler as Cosette (photo by Matthew Murphy)

What would a musical production be without a little comedy, and M. Thénardier and Mme. Thénardier, the pub owners who take in Little Cosette (Kayla Teruel) only to make a little money, provide that. Played by Jimmy Smagula and Michelle Dowdy, they are delightfully wicked, and well qualified to sing bawdily and rambunctiously.

The rest of the company — from the young Cosette (Emily Jewel Holder) to Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker), the young student-revolutionary who leads the citizens to their deaths — is perfectly cast, stunningly gifted, and gloriously beautiful to watch.

Even if you’ve seen Les Mis a hundred times, see this production. There is not one dim star in Cameron Mackintosh’s musical phenomenon, and DPAC is the place to enjoy it.

Matt Shingledecker stars as Enjolras in the national tour of Les Misérables (photo by Matthew Murphy)

SECOND OPINION: March 11th Raleigh, NC Raleigh BWW Review by Nicole Ackman:; March 11th Raleigh, NC Chatham Life & Style review by Naveed Moeed, who awarded the show 3 stars out of 5:; March 11th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter:; and March 9th Raleigh, NC preview by “Out and About” editor Kathy Hanrahan for “What’s on Tap”:

The Durham Performing Arts Center presents LES MISÉRABLES at 7:30 p.m. March 11 and 12, 8 p.m. March 13, 2 and 8 p.m. March 14, and 1 and 7 p.m. March 15 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.

TICKETS: $39.50 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here for details about the digital lottery for $35 tickets.


DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787),, or

Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587,, or

SHOW: and




THE TOUR:,,,,,,,, and






Les Misérables (1862 historical novel): (Encyclopædia Britannica) and (Wikipedia).

The Novel (e-text): (Open Library at the Internet Archive).

Victor Hugo (French novelist, poet, and playwright, 1802-85) (Encyclopædia Britannica), (Victor Hugo Central, compiled by John Newmark), (the States of Guernsey’s Official Victor Hugo website), and (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

The France of Victor Hugo: (Robert Schwartz of Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA).

Les Misérables (1980 Paris, 1985 West End, and 1987 Broadway musical): (official website), (Music Theatre International), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Study Guide: (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

Claude-Michel Schönberg (music): (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Alain Boublil (concept, book, and original French lyrics): (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Jean-Marc Natel (original French book, 1942-2019): (Internet Broadway Database) and (Internet Movie Database).

Herbert Kretzmer (English lyrics): (official website), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Trevor Nunn (English book): (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

John Caird (English book): (official website), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Les Misérables (2012 film): (official website), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

REVIEWER: Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews