Apparently, if you've seen Les Miserables in its current incarnation, you're missing 15 minutes (approximately), and a revolving stage that makes the action come alive. Well, I hadn't seen the production in any form-I even missed the Muny's presentation, so this was a fresh experience for me. I can't imagine what was cut, since it's about 3 hours even with the intermission, but the revolving stage might have been nice to have. In any event, this is still an epic musical that stirs the heart and soul, and it left the audience enthralled as it told its sprawling tale. Having read Victor Hugo's unedited text some years ago, and written a paper on how it compared to the FredEric March and Charles Laughton film, I come at this from a different perspective. For me, this modern opera currently playing the Fox Theatre (through October 28, 2012), is generally more impressive due to it's fine performances and expert staging than its reputation.
The story is relatively simple: Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread and winds up in jail, after he's paroled and breaks his parole, he's a sought after criminal, especially by a policeman named Javert. However, when the silver he steals from a bishop is not only denied return, but supplemented with more, Valjean vows to change his life for the better, and he does so under an alias. He meets the broken Fantine, who worked at his own factory, but was harassed by her fellow workmates for her illegitimate child, and fell into a downward spiral, including prostitution. Valjean makes a promise to take care of her daughter, Cosette, which he does. Against the background of revolution they finally come together after many years have passed.
Peter Lockyer gives a strong performance as Jean Valjean, carrying this play with his engaging life story and the people he encounters along the way, for good and for bad. He has a powerful presence, and his voice is a perfect fit for the role. Andrew Varela is a good foil as the determined Javert, doggedly hounding Valjean until an act of selflessness makes him question his life's course. Besty Morgan is also memorable as Fantine, and Erin Clearlock (or Abbey Rose Gould, depending on when you see it) is affecting as the young Cosette. Lauren Wiley is exceptional as the grown up version. Max Quinlan makes a fine Marius. The supporting cast does a wonderful job.
And yet, something' s missing in director's Laurence Connor and James Powell's approach. I can't put my finger on it, since this is a gargantuan production that requires several large set pieces (scenic design by Matt Kinley inspired by Hugo's paintings) which are all effective. Perhaps, I'm just not a fan of the score by Herbert Kretzmer (lyrics, adapted from the French text by Alain Boubil and Jean-Marc Natel)) and Claude-Michel Schonberg (the motif heavy music score). Maybe something was lost in the translations, but too many of the songs are just literal reproductions that lack the poetry of the novel itself. The lighting work of Paule Constable is very well done, as is the costume design of Andreane Neofitou.
I certainly recommend Les Miserables, though I was less impressed than the audience seemed to be. I think it's only fair to mention their response, since this is a long-running hit with them. It continues through October 28, 2012, at the Fox Theatre. You should definitely check it if you're a fan since it's a nicely mounted and conceived production.