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J. Mark McVey as Valjean leabs fabulous Miz

LES MISERABLES

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo.

Written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg.

Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer.

Directed by Trevor Nunn.

Starring J. Mark McVey, Robert DuSold, and Susan Dawn Carson.

At the Shubert Theatre through May 26.

By SHANNON MOHR

LES MIS'ERABLES, the award winning musical based on Victor Hugo's novel, has returned to Boston for a 10-week engagement at the Shubert Theatre. Les Miz, as many call the musical, is a must-see. The National Company, which first toured the United States with the hit last spring, puts on a fabulous performance led by J. Mark McVey, who is amazing as the musical's protagonist, Jean Valjean.

Adapted by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg from the novel, Les Mis'erables is set in 19th century France and follows the multi-faceted life of Jean Valjean. We first see Valjean doing 19 years hard labor for stealing bread for his sister's starving family. Valjean breaks parole after realizing people's reluctance to associate with a convict, is befriended by a bishop, but steals from him. The priest lies in order to gain Valjean's freedom.

Eight years later we see Valjean as <>

a mayor and respected businessman. He finds out that he is indirectly responsible for the downfall of a woman, Fantine, whose illegitimate daughter, Cosette, is taken care of by unscrupulous innkeepers. Valjean promises Fantine on her deathbed that he will adopt the young girl and raise her.

Meanwhile, the chief of police, Javert, has come to rearrest Valjean for breaking his parole. Valjean is able to escape to Montfermeil where Cosette resides with Monsieur and Madame Th'enardier, her wacky, abusive, and corrupt guardians.

Nine years later in Paris finds social unrest among the poor and intellectual classes of the city. One of a group of rebellious students, Marius, falls in love with Cosette, but is torn between his feelings and his loyalty to his friends and their cause.

The student revolt is quickly crushed and all but Marius and Valjean are killed. Cosette and Marius are married, but Valjean is dying.

The performance, except for a few first night technical bugs, was flawless. The cast, led by McVey's Valjean, was very strong. McVey himself gave an excellent showing and his singing ability shined in his solos "Soliloquy" and "Who Am I?" His baritone had an extraordinary range and the fullness of his voice made him stand out from the other singers.

Others deserving of praise include Susan Dawn Carson, who played Fantine. She sang excellently in "I Dreamed a Dream," in which Fantine fondly recalls the happiness she once had. Robert DuSold was a compelling Javert.

Adding a little bit of comedy, the Th'enardiers, Drew Eshelman and Rosalyn Rahn, stole the show often. Their antics, from "putting water in the wine" to being "beggars at the feast," added humor to the otherwise solemn plot.

The students' performances, however, were a little disappointing. "Red and Black" and "Do You Hear The People Sing?" -- two of the most essential songs in the score -- were poorly done. At the end of Act One, with "One Day More," many of the actors who played the students seemed to have gained more confidence and were able to give the song the emphasis it needed and deserved.

Melissa Errico, who is making her professional debut in the role of Cosette, was a good actress but had a rather annoying voice. Her range was good and she adapted her part to show off her excellent soprano talent. As a soloist, though, her voice was too harsh to portray the character of Cosette.

Peter Gunther, who played Marius, seemed very comfortable with his part. His duets in "A Heart Full of Love" and "A Little Fall of Rain" were very well done.

The set and lighting, created by the pair of John Napier and David Hershey, created an appropriate atmosphere for the action of the musical. Napier made excellent use of the Shubert's tiny stage by using a circular disk in the middle of the stage on which both set and actors could be moved. The resulting effect was of continual life-like movement. The most minute details were worked out by the team: from the appearance of stars in the sky during Javert's solo "Stars" to making it seem as if Javert had really jumped off a bridge in his suicide scene.

The performance, on the whole, was excellent, nearly perfect. This is one "musical sensation" not to be missed by anyone.