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theater review: Confessions of a Miz FitExpressive Cast Shows the Joy of Performing Classic Musical

On the Screen— By The Tech Arts Staff —

By Elizabeth Zakszewski

Les Mis rables

Broadway in Boston

The Opera House

Feb. 15-26, 2006

I will admit: I have been a raging fan of “Les Mis rables” since the age of ten, and Friday night marked my seventh viewing of the live show. However, I never tire of seeing the musical performed, and this Boston tour is no exception.

“Les Mis rables” is the story of a man, Jean Valjean, who after spending 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread finds redemption against the backdrop of human cruelty, suffering, and rebellion in 19th century France. The story is at the same time depressing and uplifting, comical and touching, and has been brilliantly adapted for the stage by writers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Sch nberg, and directors Trevor Nunn and John Carid. After 20 years of worldwide performances, it has suffered playful mockery in the musical theater community, cuts in the epic script to bring it down to a mere three hour runtime, and a recent Broadway closing. But the orchestra and cast of the Third National Tour proves that there is still great power in performing “Les Mis,” even today.

The performance opened with the dramatic overture played by a 15-member orchestra of local musicians, which, to my delight, featured real strings and brass (much better than synthesized orchestras). The main characters, the fugitive Valjean and Police Inspector Javert, were performed expertly by Randal Keith and Robert Hunt. Keith had played the final Valjean on Broadway and showed a consistent mastery of the role that was most noticeable in the soaring second act’s heart-rending ballad “Bring Him Home,” which he sang with as much passion as Colm Wilkinson, the original London Valjean. This was my first time seeing Hunt, and he is one of few actors who really digs into the part of the contemptuous slave to law and order that is Javert. His dominance over the stage wavered, but came on full force during his ballad, “Stars.”

In fact, with few exceptions, the entire cast fully took possession of its roles, making some untraditional choices that added new life to a show that’s been around long enough to risk getting stale. Joan Amidilla could have easily portrayed Fantine as nothing more than the sad and innocent leading lady, but instead gave her the right amount of fury for a woman who has been abused by men in both love and work. One of my favorite characters is Enjolras, the revolutionary leader, who can easily become just another chorus member overshadowed by the romantic lead Marius. Victor Wallace was the first live performer I’ve seen give Enjolras the fire, passion, and energy needed to make us believe he can inspire college students to fight to their death for the rights of the poor. Another first for me was the performance by 9-year-old Austin Myers in the role of Gavroche, the spunky street urchin who joins the revolutionaries. I’m used to cast recordings that use a 13-year-old veteran in the role, and too often touring performers lack the maturity to go beyond cute boy reciting lines. Myers, by contrast, knew his character well and had the audience laughing more than once.

Even the ensemble members (cast size is over 30), especially the female ensemble, gave life to their characters and set a perfect backdrop. However, not all performances were the most refreshing. Melissa Lyons as Eponine fell into the trap of playing a ditsy schoolgirl with an unrequited love, ignoring the psychotic street girl stalker side I love. The cast as a whole lacked energy for much of the first act — for example, “Master of the House,” the innkeeper’s song that usually has the whole audience in stitches, was too slow, and it wasn’t until the orchestra’s conclusion that the conductor was able to bring the tempo up.

But on the whole, I am still convinced that “Les Mis” is an epic any fan of the theater should see. The roaring chords bring you to the heart of a rebellion, the 12,250 pound barricades set piece will make you forget you’re watching a traveling show, and the wonderful lighting design will take you through the sewers of Paris and outside. The musical tells a story about life, virtue, death, and the conflict between authority and the redemption of a convict. It’s no wonder then that producer Cameron Mackintosh couldn’t resist bringing it back to Broadway for a limited engagement later this year.