Review: Les Misérables In Full Stage Splendor

Les Misérables by Broadway at the Paramount Seattle

See Les Misérables presented by Broadway at the Paramount and Keybank at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre running through June 17, 2018 .Get tickets, times and more info here or visit the Paramount Theatre box office during regular hours.

Les Misérables is heralded as “one of the world’s most beloved musicals”. Unless you’re under a certain age, or have been living under a rock, it is difficult to not be familiar with this grand and sweeping saga of the stage. The latest production of this musical appears at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, and it is as engaging as it has ever been. 

The storyline is not only familiar, but also classic to most people. The time frame is 1818 – 1833 during the years of unrest and revolution in France. Jean Valjean has been part of a chain gang for over 19 years. Once released, he turns his back on his crimes, jumps parole and starts a new life as a Mayor of a factory. One of his workers is wrongly accused of troublemaking, and is fired despite the fact that she (Fantaine) is a single mother trying to pay for her starving/sickly child. When Javert, a relentless police officer, recognizes Valjean, he sets off in pursuit that lasts for several years. Before Valjean leaves, he takes custody of Fantaine’s daughter Cosette, vowing to make things right with Fantaine and raise her as her own. As the years go by, revolution erupts in the air. A now grown Cosette meets a young student, Marius and they fall in love. Marius chooses to join his friends in revolution and is wounded at the barricade. Valjean carries the boy through the sewers of Paris, secreting him away from the battle and, along with his daughter, helps nurse the boy back to health without ever revealing it was he who rescued Marius. As Cosette and Marius marry, they finally discover who it was that saved Marius from the barricades, and the truth of Valjean’s life is revealed. 

There really isn’t anything negative to say about this production. The entire cast does an excellent job and the voices are all stellar. The men that make up ‘The Students’ all do good jobs. They interact with one another well, voices blending without anyone pulling line of vision. When they unite and sing ‘Drink With Me’, or the rousing ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ it is with gusto and emotion showing how easy it is for young men to become enrapt with an idea of revolution without fully understanding the consequences. The women playing ‘The Whores’ also do excellent work. When they sing “Lovely Ladies” it is with grit and grime, lasciviousness and debauchery. In contrast, when they sing the lamenting “Turning” towards the end, it is full of sorrow, emotion and loss. They all combine to make an excellent troupe of players.  

The supporting cast is all working hard and it shows. The audience experiences the death of Fantaine’s (Mary Kate Moore) dreams when she beautifully sings “I Dreamed a Dream”, and pity her as she falls deeper into depravity with only the sole notion of saving her poor child. We share young Cosette’s (Elsa Avery Dees/Sophie Knapp) fears and fantasies as she sings “Castle on a Cloud”, and celebrate older Cosette’s (Jillian Butler) falling in love with Marius (Joshua Grosso). We feel the pain of Eponine’s (Emily Bautista) unrequited love for Marius, and experience her heartbreak when she sings the hauntingly beautiful, “On My Own”, or the poignant lamenting “A Little Fall of Rain”.  

The “Thénardiers” are one of the audiences’ favorite moments bringing levity, sleaziness, and a crowd-pleasing song to the show. While past productions have portrayed the “Inn Keeper and his wife” anywhere from loathsome scum to comical buffoons, this production did it well letting the Master of the House (J. Anthony Crane) and Mrs. Thénardier (Allison Guinness) have their moments without being campy or over the top.  

The leads of the show are, of course, Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell) and Javert (Josh Davis). These two are perfectly pitted against each other, creating the fictional bookends of justice and retribution. Mr. Davis has a strong presence that is needed for a character with such determination of justice. His voice is good and the audience sees how the character’s personality shifts from being relentless in his pursuit of evil, to finally accepting that maybe it is possible for a person to change their nature. When he sings “Stars”, it is so compelling that the audience wants to lower their defenses and feel sorry for the character.  

It is Jean Valjean that is at the base of this musical, and Nick Cartell takes us along for a powerful ride. His voice is strong and the little nuances he gives Valjean, help the audience to fully understand his journey. We can witness the transformation from convict to free man to Mayor, and that is due to Mr. Cartell’s talents. His voice is strong and whether he is singing the self-examining “Who Am I?” Or the hauntingly beautiful “Bring Him Home”, Mr. Cartell knows how to use his instrument and project it with emotion. 

This production of Les Misérables has been updated from the original that premiered in 1987, and nothing reflects it more than the scenery. Using a combination of movable sets and film projection, this production takes the audience on board the ship of the chain gang as it hits rough waters. It takes us through the streets of Paris, into the slum neighborhoods and even the sewers beneath the city. It is amazing what can be done on a stage these days, and this is the evidence of how to do it well. 

Les Misérables opened first in London’s West End on October 8, 1985 to mainly negative reviews. It starred Colm Wilkinson as Valjean, Patti LuPone as Fantaine, and Frances Ruffelle as Eponine. The people’s opinions differed and the limited run sold out quickly. It was extended in London (currently still running) where it has become the ‘longest running musical in the West End’, and the ‘second-longest running musical’ in the world! The musical (music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer) transferred to Broadway on March 27, 1987 and ran for over 25 years becoming the ‘fifth longest running musical’ on Broadway. The original Broadway cast included Colm Wilkinson and Frances Ruffelle reprising their roles (Ruffelle winning a Tony Award), with Randy Graff as Fantaine, Terrance Mann as Javert and Judy Kuhn as Cosette. The show would be nominated for thirteen Tony Awards and winning nine including Best Musical 1987. 

The musical took to the Big Screen in 2012. The movie met with disappointing reviews and stared Hugh Jackman as Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, Anne Hathaway as Fantaine, and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. 

Les Misérables runs June 6-17 at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. Tickets start at $35 and are available on-line at available at STGPresents.org, Ticketmaster.com, by calling 1-800-982-2787, or in person at The Paramount Theatre Box Office (Monday through Friday, 10am to 6pm).

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You might also be interested in our preview piece about Les Misérables here.

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About Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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