There are certain properties in the world of entertainment and popular culture that many would consider “critic proof,” as there is no amount of negative press a production can receive that will dissuade the viewing public from turning up in droves. In many cases, I completely agree; sometimes you just want to settle into a comfortable chair and just be entertained, regardless of how little it stimulates you on an intellectual level. I try to keep myself as objective as possible when it comes to writing a review, as I don’t want any personal feeling clouding my judgment. After taking more than one swing at the bat with the latest musical to come to town at Fair Park Music Hall, I find myself in the position to once again view and review one of the longest running and successful stage productions in history. So, let us visit early nineteenth century France and dive into the dark and dreary landscape of “Les Misérables,” playing through May 6th at Music Hall at Fair Park.
Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell) is serving a nineteen-year prison sentence as prisoner 24601 for simply stealing a loaf of bread for his starving nephew. He has at long last earned his parole by officer of the law Javert (Josh Davis) and released but is shunned at every turn. After attempting to steal silver from the Bishop of Digne (Andrew Maughan), he is shown pity by the kindly Bishop as long as he redeems himself. Valjean vows to do so and eventually changes his identity, breaks his parole and relocates, becoming a wealthy business owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer. After discovering one of his workers named Fantine (Mary Kate Moore) has fallen ill and been cast out, he takes pity on her and tends to her, and upon realizing she has a daughter that will be orphaned, Valjean vows to look after her as if she were his own. As Cosette (Jillian Butler) blossoms into womanhood, Valjean continues to look over his shoulder to avoid the now renewed pursuit of Javert and raise Fantine’s daughter as the city of Paris teeters on the brink of revolution.
I could go on and on breaking down this tried and true story piece by piece, but I’d rather just cut to the chase: I don’t like this story. I never have, and I’ve sat through several different performances of this same story, not really enjoying ANY of them. As much as I wanted this to turn the tide for me, it really didn’t. With two primary male leads always coming across as FAR too bombastic, bellowing every line like they were competing for most over the top classic Disney villain. The role of Fantine has always been the standout for me, and Mary Kate Moore delivers here by effortlessly wrenching tears out of the audience with her beautifully understated performance. I know that this production has it’s devoted following, and people will show up for it regardless, but it’s just not my cup of tea. I respect the talent involved, but I just can’t connect with it.