Entertainment :: Theatre

Les Misérables

by Andrew  Clark
Contributor
Sunday Jan 6, 2013
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The cast of ’Les Miserables’
The cast of ’Les Miserables’  

Amidst the avalanche of reviews and award predictions for the "Les Miserables" film released on Christmas, it is no surprise that a tour has been put into motion to remind the public of where this musical phenomenon began.

Having personally seen the film version twice in the week leading up to opening night at the Academy of Music, I was both relieved to get back to the classic version as well as nervous that I would no longer love it as much as I did before the emotional battering ram that the film turned out to be. I can say that both of these feelings were justified in this current tour.

The story is one that has been told for decades on stage and based on the classic novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. Jean Valjean is a released prisoner who, after a couple of damaging missteps, decides to start a new life and identity for himself. While continuing to live his life on the run from the authorities who seek him for breaking his parole, Valjean goes on to find himself in the middle of French political unrest and a brief citizens’ revolt.

Of course, this all could be considered background plot in the musical to tell the stories of the unforgettable characters introduced and the frequently heart wrenching music that led the show to soaring success. Accordingly, most "Les Mis" productions rely heavily on their cast to deliver the emotional heft and power that the story and score require.

I found the cast of this tour to be exceptional for the most part, mostly equipped with the vocal and acting chops I was hoping to find on this tour. I did have mild problems with the rushed, impersonal manner Peter Lockyer chose to play Jean Valjean, but that was a minor issue compared to his numerous impressive moments. In fact, the only cast member I found myself completely unable to connect with was Genevieve Leclerc, who played the role of Fantine.

While it isn’t fair to compare Ms. Leclerc’s performance with the Oscar buzzing cinematic performance by Anne Hathaway, it seemed that she decided to deliver her part with as little emotion as possible. This is an odd and off-putting choice for someone playing a character that has very little stage time, but an enormous impact on the image of the show. Leclerc used her considerably beautiful voice to deliver a flat portrayal of her tragic character. Quite frankly, even knowing Fantine so well I felt little empathy for her in this production, which was very much a let-down.

Erin Clemons (Eponine) on the other hand, was appropriately wrought with the emotions that led her to fall in love with Marius, who only sees her as a friend, and eventually to her death. Clemons has a voice without any noticeable limit as she sang her considerably difficult songs with depth, power, and a beautiful tone. Also notable was Andrew Varela’s showstopping performance as Javert and the rich depiction of Marius by Devin Ilaw.

One of the more interesting aspects of this tour’s production is the exclusion of the famous rotating stage and the inclusion of a dynamic visualization screen. Used more effectively in the second act, there was some very smart execution in creating a realistic backdrop for the characters to work within without the sometimes confining sets that an epic of this proportion can experience.
Amidst the avalanche of reviews and award predictions for the "Les Miserables" film released on Christmas, it is no surprise that a tour has been put into motion to remind the public of where this musical phenomenon began.

Having personally seen the film version twice in the week leading up to opening night at the Academy of Music, I was both relieved to get back to the classic version as well as nervous that I would no longer love it as much as I did before the emotional battering ram that the film turned out to be. I can say that both of these feelings were justified in this current tour.

Erin Clemons (Eponine) has a voice without any noticeable limit as she sang her considerably difficult songs with depth, power, and a beautiful tone.

The story is one that has been told for decades on stage and based on the classic novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. Jean Valjean is a released prisoner who, after a couple of damaging missteps, decides to start a new life and identity for himself. While continuing to live his life on the run from the authorities that seek him for breaking his parole, Valjean goes on to find himself in the middle of French political unrest and a brief citizens’ revolt.

Of course, this all could be considered background plot in the musical to tell the stories of the unforgettable characters introduced and the frequently heart wrenching music that led the show to soaring success. Accordingly, most "Les Mis" productions rely heavily on their cast to deliver the emotional heft and power that the story and score require.

I found the cast of this tour to be exceptional for the most part, mostly equipped with the vocal and acting chops I was hoping to find on this tour. I did have mild problems with the rushed, impersonal manner Peter Lockyer chose to play Jean Valjean, but that was a minor issue compared to his numerous impressive moments. In fact, the only cast member I found myself completely unable to connect with was Genevieve Leclerc, who played the role of Fantine.

While it isn’t fair to compare Ms. Leclerc’s performance with the Oscar buzzing cinematic performance by Anne Hathaway, it seemed that she decided to deliver her part with as little emotion as possible. This is an odd and off-putting choice for someone playing a character that has very little stage time, but an enormous impact on the image of the show. Leclerc used her considerably beautiful voice to deliver a flat portrayal of her tragic character. Quite frankly, even knowing Fantine so well I felt little empathy for her in this production, which was very much a letdown.

Erin Clemons (Eponine) on the other hand, was appropriately wrought with the emotions that led her to fall in love with Marius, who only sees her as a friend, and eventually to her death. Clemons has a voice without any noticeable limit as she sang her considerably difficult songs with depth, power, and a beautiful tone. Also notable was Andrew Varela’s show stopping performance as Javert and the rich depiction of Marius by Devin Ilaw.

One of the more interesting aspects of this tour’s production is the exclusion of the famous rotating stage and the inclusion of a dynamic visualization screen. Used more effectively in the second act, there was some very smart execution in creating a realistic backdrop for the characters to work within without the sometimes-confining sets that an epic of this proportion can experience.

Of particular note were the visually convincing sewer scenes, and a breathtaking interpretation of Javert’s suicide. As the stage went dark, Javert was suspended in the air with the water rushing at him via the visualization. A triumphant use of the technology to give a new sense of realism that past productions has been unable to create.

At the end of the day this is mostly the same "Les Miserables" that the world has come to know and love. Sure, there were a few letdowns, but its strengths were still front and center. These deep, emotional stories mixed in with historically epic events continue to be a benchmark for how to create a theatrical success. My advice is to put off seeing the movie for the umpteenth time and go to see this spectacular stage version while it is still in town.

Of particular note was the visually convincing sewer scenes, and a breathtaking interpretation of Javert’s suicide. As the stage went dark, Javert was suspended in the air with the water rushing at him via the visualization. A triumphant use of the technology to give a new sense of realism that past productions have been unable to create.

At the end of the day this is mostly the same "Les Miserables" that the world has come to know and love. Sure, there were a few letdowns, but its strengths were still front and center. These deep, emotional stories mixed in with historically epic events continue to be a benchmark for how to create a theatrical success. My advice is to put off seeing the movie for the umpteenth time and go to see this spectacular stage version while it is still in town.

"Les Miserables" runs through Jan. 13 at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad Street in Philadelphia. For info or tickets, call 215-893-1999 or visit http://www.academyofmusic.org.

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