The Civic Center of Greater Des Moines' Broadway Series got underway last week with a run of the 25th anniversary production of Les Misérables. Under the watchful eye of original producer Cameron Mackintosh and with music that is known around the world, the new production reinforces the show's position as a timeless classic in the world of musical theater.
Against the backdrop of the French Revolution, Les Misérables follows the story of Jean Valjean and Javert. Valjean is a man fresh off the chain gang to which he had been sentenced for stealing bread to save the life of his sister's child. Javert is the police sergeant determined to capture Valjean for breaking parole. Fleeting encounters and near captures abound and the question of whose persistence will win out forms the epicenter of the plot. Interwoven with their storyline are the opposing plights of young Eponine and Cosette, two lovelorn maidens. The storyline of Les Misérables is complicated at best, and with a nearly three hour running time it is easy to lose sight of the intricacies.
Thankfully, when the plot begins to send the audience drifting, the music pulls them right back in. Unlike most modern musicals, the entire book is sung and when traditional musical numbers arise from the plot they are emphasized with soaring melodies and powerful numbers performed by the entire ensemble. Weaving several melodic themes throughout the entire show, composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricist Herbert Kretzmer have created a rarity, a musical in which there is not just one or two memorable pieces, but a musical in which the overall melody will stick with you long after the curtain falls. Well known pieces such as "I Dreamed a Dream," "On My Own," and " One Day More" garner the attention and praise, but the quieter melodies stick with you just as long.
At it's heart, Les Misérables is an epic musical about the simplest of things: human emotion. Revenge, joy, despair, love, and all of the emotions in between are prominently on display. And only with the skill of the stellar cast would the subtleties of those emotions be so expertly conveyed, through song no less, to an audience of 2700 from a dimly lit stage. Peter Lockyer, as Jean Valjean, carries the show without making the show solely his. With a powerful voice and humble demeaner fitting that of a transformed man, Lockyer takes what could be a grandiose role and makes it subtle by simply baring the emotions of a broken man. As Javert, Andrew Varela's deep, resounding voice punctuates the character's unforgiving manner. Brianna Carlson–Goodman, in the role of Eponine, has a beautifully clear tone that is perfectly suited to portray Eponine's longing. The entire ensemble proficiently handles the task of keeping up with Les Misérables, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that the nature of the show does not allow for much, if any, rest for the weary.
For the 25th anniversary production, there were a few changes made to the design of the show. One of the best changes was the inclusion of author Victor Hugo's original sketches as the backdrop for many of the scenes. Unfortunately, in conjunction with the utilization of Hugo's bleak and staid drawings, the staging of this production is very dark, literally not well lit. While it is clear that the lighting is used to underscore the time period and the living conditions of the peasants, there were moments in which a few extra watts would have helped the audience members to better see the expression and emotion on the faces of the performers.
All told, if the packed house and appreciative applause are any indication, the new production holds up very well next to the inevitable comparison to the original staging. The 25th anniversary production is top notch, and devoted followers and newcomers alike should not miss the opportunity to see such a classic musical reborn. For information and to see if the musical will be playing in a city near you visit http://www.lesmis.com/