Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” is one of the most prevalent pieces of source material when you mention any form of stage play. It is consistently amongst the top “Bucket List” productions for fans of the theatre, and with sixteen total Tony nominations (nine wins, by the way), there have been movies and even marching band/drum and bugle corps shows based on its material. The newest traveling company of this very popular production has made its way to the Dallas/Fort Worth area at Music Hall at Fair Park through May 6th, which means I personally have now gotten to witness its spectacle.
(Full disclosure here: this is actually the first time I have seen it in its “purest” form. There was another production a few years ago that I saw, but there were some liberties taken there. Also, from the “Bucket List” standpoint: I have always been intrigued by the production, but this was not one that I necessarily longed for as much as others. Not at the bottom of the list by far, but also not at the top.)
Real quick: it’s the early nineteenth century in France, and after nineteen years, Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell) is getting released from prison after stealing a loaf of bread to survive. When he is outcast because of his past, he steals again, and although the Bishop he stole from saves him from further imprisonment, he violates his parole and changes his identity. This puts his old nemesis Javert (Josh Davis) on his tail, chasing him over the next two decades as Valjean takes in a young girl named Cosette (Jillian Butler as she grows up), joins a rebellion where his ward is courted by a young man named Marius (Robert Ariza), all the while staying ahead of his antagonist.
To call “Les Misérables” a musical may be a bit off center. This is more of an English opera than a traditional musical, as there is very little dialogue to this entire production. The first clue here is that the story is actually explained in the program, so make sure to get to the theatre early to absorb it if you have not already. It is also important to understand that you MUST be in your seat at the allotted start time, or you will miss about twenty percent of the first act due to the important visual nature of the prologue.
Visually, there is no other way to say it than to extoll its greatness. From the set design to prop work and technology, it is all top-notch here. There are a couple of moments like when Jean Valjean is taking Marius through the underground tunnels of Paris in the aftermath of the rebellion that are simply so awesome that they have to be seen to believed. The transitions are seamless, accompanied by a wonderfully talented orchestra led by Brian Eads that add to the raw emotion this story brings.
And with a story this beloved, you must have a cast that can bring each and every detail to life. For that task, this cast doesn’t have to rise to the occasion: they are already there. Cartell puts so much power and intensity to Valjean that I was glued to each and every note he sent sailing through Music Hall, and Davis is the perfect complement/conflict for him to work with. There is also great work here by J. Anthony Crane and Allison Guinn as the exploitive Thenardiers, who understand the importance (and lack of humility) in the roles they have been given and work it to its maximum of both villainy and hilarity. Each and every one of the supporting roles also are strong, and with a cast this big to be strong from top to bottom, I could not have been more pleased with each and every performer that graced the stage.
As Valjean walked his own path to find his own personal redemption, so does this production. For a quality night out with whomever you take with you to see this company of “Les Misérables,” prepare yourself for a night you won’t soon forget!