In every musical, there is that song; the one that’s beautiful, powerful, and takes your breath away. In Les Misérables, there is no one song to choose. Based on the book of the same name by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables is an operetta, meaning most of the show is sung. Everything is drawn out and up and over the top to show symbolism in this show, due to the sometimes hard-to-follow plot.
Les Misérables, often shortened to Les Mis, is translated from French to mean “The Miserable Ones.” It tells the story of Jean Valjean, a poor man imprisoned for 19 years after stealing a loaf of bread. Valjean breaks his parole and is constantly on the run from Javert, the policeman who originally caught him. Set in the 1800s in Paris, France, the French Revolution is getting into full swing. The first act tells of Fantine, a woman whose daughter, Cosette, is staying at an inn, kept care of by the Thenardiers. Valjean goes to get Cosette and raise her as Fantine’s dying wish. The second act focuses on the love triangle formed by Cosette, Marius, a young revolutionary student, and Eponine, the Thenardiers’ daughter, and Marius’s best friend. It also focuses on the group of students who are revolting and fighting the French government, primarily on Enjolras and Marius. The story ends with many dead, Marius and Cosette symbolising the hope and happiness that is left in the world of Valjean and the others who he touched.
Les Mis has always had a special spot in my heart. The show has been running for 25 years now, winning several Tonys in its runs in different cities, such as Paris, London, New York, and Spain. This production is a special for the 25th anniversary. Several minor changes have been made to the show, but the heart and the music are just the same. One of the biggest changes is the addition of a screen to the set. The screen shows images of the city, and they change with the scene changes. It adds an almost movie-like effect, which ends up looking incredible from the audience. Sometimes plays seem so 2-dimensional, but this was not.
There are many strong performers showcased in Les Misérables. The actor playing Valjean, J. Mark McVey, has performed the role near 3,000 times. He is an incredibly strong actor, who, despite having done the same role so many times, manages to bring energy and passion to his performance. Him, along with the stunning Andrew Varela (Javert), Max Quinlan (Marius), and Chasten Harmon (Éponine), and the talented ensemble and swing performers, create an excellent world for you to fall into for 3 hours.
Another incredible aspect of the show was the set pieces. The set really accentuates the story, and I can see how it would be easy to lose yourself in the story and find yourself at home onstage with such an elaborate world to be in.
The orchestra is yet another strong point. The music in Les Mis is challenging and beautiful, and the orchestra will leave you stunned.
If a weak spot needed to be pointed out, it would be the performance of Jenny Latimer (Cosette). She played the role as if she were a Disney princess, which is not traditional. Although she was talented, there were other women in the cast who I believe could have played the role better.
Les Misérables is a fantastic show. Patrons of all ages will enjoy Les Mis, but children may need to have the plot explained. If you are not typically a theater goer, consider seeing Les Mis. It’s an iconic broadway show. “Dream the dream” at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis from now until December 18th.