Anthony J. Piccione
When thinking about what the greatest Broadway musicals over the past half-century are, Les Miserables is usually at or near the top of everyone’s list. Since it first premiered in the 1980s, it has received near universally acclaim, been produced again and again by theatres across the world, been adapted into an Oscar-nominated feature film, and continues to be among the most beloved musicals among theatergoers worldwide. So when it was announced that Connecticut Repertory Theatre would be producing the show as part of their Nutmeg Summer Series, the expectations were understandably high. They did not disappoint.
The show is presented in the form of a staged concert production, meaning that the focus is on the music and the actors, rather than the more technical aspects that come with a full-scale production. However, this is easily forgotten over the course of the production, as the incredible acting and voices of the cast take us into the world of the show with their suburb talents. In terms of the direction and the performances– as well as the reactions they invoke from audiences – the level of quality is near that of any show you could see on Broadway, and just by looking at the wide range of talented individuals in the production, it’s not hard to see why.
The show is directed by none other than Broadway legend Terrance Mann, the three-time Tony nominee who appeared in the original 1987 Broadway production of Les Miserables as the villainous Inspector Javert. His experience shows in the direction just as much as it does in his acting. While the production is not heavy of blocking or choreography, with the lead actors primarily acting and singing into a set of four microphones, the moments where they are included are blocked down to perfection, giving the show the same feel of an epic musical spectacle as the original Broadway production.
The biggest highlight of the night is, by far, the level and dramatic and musical talent in the cast that make this show as enjoyable as it is. Reprising his role of Inspector Javert, Mann shows that he’s still just as much the gifted actor that he was three decades ago. His performance in this production was every bit as exhilarating as it was when he played the role for the first time. David Harris – known in Australia as one of the most gifted actors in the country –does an equally impressive job in the role of the valiant Jean Valjean. His magnificent voice plays a big role in helping to make this production soar to the musical heights that it does.
Among the other lead characters, Alex Zeto does an excellent job portraying the role of Fantine, and her performance of I Dreamed a Dream proves to be a poignant highlight of the show. Chandler Lovelle and Joe Callahan both do a fine job in their respective roles of Cosette and Marius. Will Bryant does a superb job in the role of Enjorlas, while Philip Hoffman and Liz Larsen provide a nice dose of comic-relief with their portrayals of Thenardier and Madam Thenardier. Aidan and Dermot McMillan do a fine job as they take turns playing the role of young Gavroche, while Ariana DeBose as Eponine delivers a very touching performance of On My Own. All the lead actors are backed up by an equally strong and talented ensemble that helps give the show much of the same feeling of excitement that the Broadway production had.
While the acting, singing and direction prove to be the highlights of the show, there are some visual and technical elements of the show worth noting that make the show a better experience. While the set takes a minimalistic approach, due to the format of the production, this becomes a very minor aspect of the show as the audience becomes completely immersed in the show’s actors. This is largely thanks to the spectacular use of lighting in the show, which helps set the tone of various scenes and also keeps the focus on the gifted cast of actors. The production also makes good use of projections, as a means of providing both a visual backdrop for each scene, as well as a subtitle that lets the audience know at various points where the characters are in the story at that moment. Overall, these prove to be creative and effective ways of enhancing the production and making the most of the concert-style format that is used.
Overall, this production provided just as much of the same thrills, laughs and tears to audience members as one could typically expect from a show like Les Miserables. With an outstanding level of talent involved, Connecticut Repertory Theatre is able to do what is not an easy task: To do a concert-style performance of one of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time, and make it just as much of a worthwhile experience for the audience as a full-scale production would. For anyone who enjoys great theatre and great music, this event is something that they are certain to enjoy and is not to be missed.
Les Miserables: A Musical Celebration runs at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre from May 28th to June 7th. For more information, please visit www.crt.uconn.edu.