Les Miserablesis now in its 15th year of performances and, though it is not the greatest musical of all time, it is one of the most efficient. It has converted Victor Hugo's 1400 pages (depending upon the edition and publisher) into a very watchable, moving production. The distillation boils down all of Hugo's psychological meditations and moral complications into one concise, quick moving musical drama.
Jean Valjean (Dave Hugo) is a man of impeccable morality, imprisoned on a chain-gang in 19th-century France for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Though the act is portrayed as one of courage and integrity in the face of economic injustice, Valjean is treated by the authorities as if he had committed murder. The counterpart to Valjean is Inspector Javert (Trent Blanton), whose morality is as unwavering. The tension in the work is not between good and evil, so much as between warring and incompatible versions of morality. Javert mercilessly hunts down Valjean for breaking parole. For Javert, morality exists in the law and any dilution of the law results in a slippery slope of compromised values.
Throw in a woman forced into prostitution and dying from consumption, her daughter's love affair with a student revolutionary, and a conniving villain who has lost his inn. The result is an engaging - if Cliff-noted and flawed - portrayal of the time surrounding the French Revolution.
Dave Hugo's Valjean thunders on the stage, his voice filling the space and finding confident range between indignation and passion. Blanton's stouter voice has a more limited range, but functions perfectly as the diametric opposition to Valjean's vocalization of morality. Blanton as Javert steps forward onto the stage with erect posture communicating in full his sense of his own righteousness as the personification of the law.
Linda Pierson Huff (Fantine) is also limited at the upper register, but uses her instrument so effectively that the weakness seems like a strength. She is emotive and challenges the ends of her voice through an anguished waiver. Her Fantine is world-weary and the death of the character comes inevitably. Seth Bowling's Thenardier nearly captures the show. His guilelessness and treachery are made seductive and Bowling absolutely inhabits his Thenardier with winks and jerks at his pants.
The second act of the play is less compelling and bit more muddled. Years have passed and the details of the revolution are glossed through the necessity of brevity and narrative clarity. Eponine (Dina Lynne Morishita), Fantine's daughter, falls in love with Marius (Daniel Bogart) while Paris is preparing to burn around them. Valjean has changed over the years; his morality has lost focused and his living has gained paranoia. The score of the second act also lacks the power of the first. "Drink with Me to Days Gone By" blanches next to "Red and Black" or "Do You Hear the People Sing." Nevertheless Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg have made remarkable sense out of a daunting novel, and found that talisman of mass appeal.
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