Les Misérables Hits Boston
The Colonial Theatre
106 Boylston St.
Through July 5.
By Joel Rosenberg
Having grossed over a quarter of a billion dollars and having been seen by more than 5.5 million people, Les Misérables hardly needs more publicity. I'll give it anyway, though, because after playing for 12 years and touring to over 22 countries, it still deserves it.
Based on Victor Hugo's 1862 classic novel which he published in exile from France during Napoleon's reign, Les Mis is a "melodramatic [story] written from the premise that any man can rise above his circumstances to reach perfection," as the World Wide Web site (http://www.lesmis.com) explains.
The story begins with the protagonist, Jean Valjean, in jail for stealing bread to feed his sister's child. After being released, he breaks his parole and becomes a factory owner and mayor of a local city. One of his factory workers is a single woman prostituting herself to take care of her daughter, who is in the care of a lowly restaurant owner. Valjean vows to find and care for her daughter, and in the process confronts his old parole officer, Javert, who discovers that their mayor is former prisoner 24601. This puts Valjean on the run, alone with the small girl, Cosette.
The play unfolds from there, involving the later lives of the couple caring for young Cosette, a French revolutionary who falls in love with Cosette, and Javert, still on the prowl for Valjean. The music has an incredibly hypnotic effect, and the three-and-a-half hour show cruises by.
In the production at the Colonial, Jean Valjean is masterfully played by Gregory Calvin Stone, who takes the show through every emotion possible, including love for his adopted daughter, honor in admitting his true identity to save an innocent man from conviction, hostility from a 19-year-old imprisonment for a harmless crime, valor in joining the revolution, and more. Todd Alan Johnson does an incredible job as Javert, the dutiful state officer mindlessly pursuing Valjean. With a strong voice and a menacing face, you wouldn't want to be on his bad side.
J.P. Dougherty and Tregoney Shephard are excellent as the Thnardiers, the disgusting couple charged with taking care of Cosette. In addition to providing the comic relief in the play via their uncouth antics, socially unacceptable behavior, and confrontational relationship, Thnardier is instrumental in the resolution of the play, which he pulls off in great style while staying completely in character. Their own daughter, Eponine, is played by Rona Figueroa, an interesting choice because of her Asian ethnicity, somewhat odd for revolutionary France. Alain Boublil and Claude-Michael Schonberg, the play's creators, are good at not casting based on ethnicity (Jonathan Price in Miss Saigon was their doing as well). Figueroa handles her role well. Young Cosette and Young Eponine are played by Danielle Raniere and Elizabeth Lundberg respectively, incredible little kids who have tremendous stage presence and vocal control for small people. Gavroche is played by Ryan Rumbaugh, another unbelievable little boy whose range far exceed his age.
In addition to the extremely strong cast and music, the set is one of the most elaborate in Broadway touring history, costing $4.2 million. Played on a revolving stage, the sets are painstakingly realistic and intricate, and change seamlessly thanks to the motion of the floor. Two huge pieces are used in multiple settings, to display the slums of France as well as the barricade of the revolution, and a simple gate creates a minimalist house which is used quite effectively. The lighting and other tech aspects are very nice, changing the mood and focusing attention where needed. It's the icing on the cake of a lavish Broadway musical.
What it all comes down to is this - if you haven't seen this show, you absolutely must. It is now a part of American (and world) musical history, and is extremely well done. The length and quality more than justify the cost of the ticket, and you'll walk out singing the songs with a tear in your eye. There is certainly a reason it has done as well as it has, and it's time for you to find out for yourself. If you've already seen it, go again. You'll appreciate it even more.