Review: "Les Misérables" at Theatre Smith-Gilmour

Joe Szekeres

  • Toronto Critic

A fresh appreciation of this classic story of moral conversion still packs its emotional punch

The Story

From the press release: Victor Hugo wrote about the political and social issues of his day. The questions are epic. We follow protagonist Jean Valjean and the iconic characters and their struggles to face what it means to be humane and compassionate, to love and to die, and to listen to the stories of silenced voices.

The Opening Night Production

Ah, the adrenaline and the anticipatory buzz of excitement on opening night.  I too was feeling that same sense of anticipation and wondered how six actors, a bare stage with minimal props along the side wall could recreate Hugo’s sweeping story of the poor, the afflicted, the ‘les miserables’ in this approximately 120-130 seat theatre?

Once the show began, I understood completely how the ‘less is more’ adage worked superbly in this production that still packed an emotional wallop of an ending. This LES MISERABLES is clean and lean. It is a showstopper thanks to Michele Smith’s inspirational direction and vision of minimalism which clearly maintains a focus on the ‘call to arms’ in ‘finding one’s own conscience’ so aptly billed in her Director’s Note.

Victoria Wallace’s costume design are an appropriately fitting recreation. Simon Rossiter’s lighting design tautly illuminates the focal point of each scene and moment. Johnny Hockin’s sound design, Elisa Julia Gilmour’s projection design and Victoria Wallace’s set design of the building of the barricade in Act 2 allowed me to imagine in my mind the tenseness and the fear those youthful revolutionaries would have felt. Pure theatrical magic thanks to production manager Pip Bradford.

Upon seeing this LES MISERABLES, I realized it doesn’t require all the accoutrements of the Boublil-Schonberg musical, successful as it was, to touch the soul deeply. Instead, this two-year company collaborative world premiere brilliantly uses the fine art of story telling in its adaptation.  Be prepared to be captivated and enthralled by “Jean Valjean’s lifelong struggle …by asking the most profound questions of human existence: What is justice? What is forgiveness? What is love? What would you die for?” (so aptly billed in the press release).

Les Miserables.png

The press release also states that Theatre Smith-Gilmour is committed to an artistic process that gives expression and dignity and communicates stories with a compassionate vision of the human condition. And what an appropriate choice to stage the moral conversion of protagonist Jean Valjean in the intimate environment of the Franco Boni Theatre. While playing multiple roles, this stellar ensemble cast moved me emotionally many times that I had to stop writing notes in my book. Instead, I just wanted to experience and simply be in the moment with these characters.  These top-notch actors allowed me this opportunity.

Dean Gilmour consistently and strongly delivers an exceptional performance of character depth as Jean Valjean, a spiritually tortured man who expects to die after he is freed from prison for nineteen years in stealing a loaf of bread.  Upon stealing the silverware of the kindly bishop who offers lodging for the night, Valjean once again expects to be imprisoned for his crime. Instead, the kind bishop proceeds to give Valjean two expensive candlesticks in exchange for Valjean’s soul for God. Mr. Gilmour captures beautifully the conflict Valjean experiences in his quest to do the right thing. Pay close attention to Mr. Gilmour’s eyes as they so naturally reflect his inner turmoil.

As Inspector Javert, Mac Fyfe immediately captured my attention upon his first entrance. His Javert is bold and brave. This Javert is not one to mess with at any costs as it is the law that must remain firm and resolute. Mr. Fyfe’s fiery performance intensity in emotional character development is pure gold to watch.

As Marius, Benjamin Muir hits all the right notes as the boyishly infatuated ‘head in the clouds’ young man in his professed love for Cosette. Like Mr. Gilmour, Mr. Muir also shows us solid adult performance character depth on the barricade and in his heart rending moments with Eponine (Diana Tso). Nina Gilmour seamlessly captured and broke my heart in her performance as Fantine. Ms. Gilmour’s portrayal of the young Cosette is adorable while her adult Cosette is a woman who understands at the conclusion how important Valjean’s sacrifice has become in rescuing Marius. As the Thenardiers, Daniel Roberts and Diana Tso are sleazily and wickedly delicious as the money hungry tavern owners who greedily take financial advantage of the unwed Fantine in the care of the young Cosette.

Final Thoughts

I thought  I had my fill of LES MISERABLES, but Theatre Smith Gilmour’s production left me with a fresh appreciation for this timeless tale of redemption, forgiveness, compassion and love. A truly remarkable evening nicely spent at the theatre. Don’t ‘mis’ out on this LES MISERABLES.

  • Two and three-quarter hours, one 15-minute intermission
  • Opened: March 20, 2018
  • Performance dates:
  • March 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 at 8 pm
  • March 24 and 31 at 1 pm.
  • March 25 fundraiser at 3 pm
  • Closes: April 1 at 3 pm.
  • Visit theatrecentre.org for further information
  • With: Mac Fyfe, Dean Gilmour, Nina Gilmour, Benjamin Muir, Daniel Roberts, Diana Tso
  • Photo of Diana Tso and Benjamin Muir taken by Elisa Gilmour