The revolution is not a dinner party.
With all due respect to Mao Zedong, The Chanhassen Dinner Theatre has turned the revolution of 1832 in Paris into a dinner party and it’s a very satisfactory dinner, a lovely party and a good reading of the revolution.
“Les Miserables” is scheduled to run through October 2007. It plays nightly Tuesday through Sunday, with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Ticket prices for dinner and show range from $52 to $72 per person. Show only ticket range is $40 to $60 per person. To order tickets, call 952-934-1525 or order online at chanhassendt.com.
Their current production of “Les Miserables” gives us a stripped-down but highly charged version of probably the most popular play in the last 20 years. On one level it is the story of Jean Valjean and his pursuit by Javert. Valjean has served 19 years on a chain gang for trying to steal a loaf of bread. After completing his sentence, he is required by law to identify himself as an ex-convict to employers and anyone else with whom he must do business. He quickly finds himself homeless and out of work. He changes his name and becomes a successful businessman, but Javert, the agent of the police, pursues him and wants to send him back to prison for illegally hiding his identity.
But Victor Hugo’s novel is not called Jean Valjean, it is called “Les Miserables” (The Miserable Ones). Outcasts, prostitutes, orphans in the storm, those brutalized by poverty are the heroes of this novel. Their conditions are appalling. Their problems cry for resolution. There is a cry for revolution.
The revolution of 1832 was actually quite successful for one class of people. Although, on the one hand, it merely changed monarchal rule by the Bourbon dynasty to monarchal rule by the Orleans branch, there was an important difference. The old aristocrats, the ancient regime, the rulers forced upon France by a Europe weary of war, were gone. In their place was a constitutional monarchy. Many more people had the right to vote. There were civil liberties. But it was a revolution that didn’t touch the lower classes, the miserable ones. The bourgeois students couldn’t understand why the masses didn’t join them at the barricades. But the masses couldn’t see it as in their interest. Financiers, contractors, lawyers and the wealthy bourgeoisie would now run the government, but for those at the bottom that made little difference: plus ca change, la c’est la même chose—the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Michael Brindisi has done a remarkable job in adapting Les Miz to the Chanhassen stage. Instead of the turntable stage of the original, he uses a constructivist set with bleachers for the actors to sit when they’re not in the action and small pieces of furniture to suggest different scenes. To suggest the passage of time, at the end of one scene Thomas Schumacher, as Jean Valjean, takes a gray hairpiece out of his pocket and puts it on, and the new scene begins 15 years later.
This style of production puts more emphasis on the actors, and the Chanhassen ensemble, under Brindisi’s direction, carries it off wonderfully. Keith Rice is in particularly good voice as Javert. We’ve seen him in romantic and comic roles, but in this dramatic role he reaches new heights. Zoe Pappas is great as Eponine, and when she stands at the gateway to eternity she is the symbol of liberty that inspired the continued revolutions of the miserable ones in nineteenth century France. Ali Littrell gives the character of Cosette enough subtlety and contradiction to make what could be saccharine into something substantial and memorable.