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Les Miserables ~ The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
December 23, 2017 

(From L) Josh Davis as ‘Inspector Javert’ and Nick Cartell as ‘Jean Valjean’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

(From L) Josh Davis as ‘Inspector Javert’ and Nick Cartell as ‘Jean Valjean’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

The year was 1985 when Les Miserables hit London’s West End.  It wowed critics then – Patti Lupone won the Laurence Olivier Award (Britain’s equivalent of an Oscar) for “Best Actress in a Musical” in her role as Fantine and the musical was further nominated for two awards for “Best Actor in a Musical’ (Colm Armstrong for Jean Valjean and Alun Armstrong for Thénardier) – and now.  Through all its reincarnations, the operatic sing-through, backdropped by the French Revolution, still fills theaters around the world.

The spirit of this musical is as relevant as if Victor Hugo had just set pen to paper.  Let’s reflect on Louis XVI’s agenda, shall we?  Alienate the lower classes through starvation.  Ignore science and reason for traditions.  Keep monarchical rule in place amid mass resistance.  And cut taxes on the privileged nobles thus keeping the peasants and rising middle class at bay.  Hmmm.  Didn’t work out so well for old Louis, hung for his Draconian policies.

“I Dreamed A Dream” - Melissa Mitchell as ‘Fantine’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

“I Dreamed A Dream” – Melissa Mitchell as ‘Fantine’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

At its very soul is the heartbreaking love story of the abandoned prostitute Fantine (Melissa Mitchell) and the reformed thief Valjean(Nick Cartell); Valjean’s death bed promise to adopt Fantine’s daughter Cosette (Jillian Butler); the heartwarming love story of the innocent Cosette and the idealistic Marius(Joshua Grosso); the tragic Éponine (Phoenix Best) and her unrequited love for her compatriot Marius; and the glory and desperation of a revolution led by Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker) that arose from social and economic inequality.  There hasn’t been a story with as much 18th century history, nor as much inspirational music, till Hamilton arrived on the scene.  And you know how that’s turned out.  Tickets to that blockbuster are as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Matt Shingledecker as ‘Enjolras’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

Matt Shingledecker as ‘Enjolras’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

In this national touring company staging the intensity of both the battle and escape scenes are greatly enhanced by projections by Fifty-Nine Productions who have drawn inspiration from the apocryphal paintings of Victor Hugo.  And as grim as the story may be, the drama of Valjean’s misery is lightened up decidedly by the characters of Madame Thénardier and her husband Thénardier.

Allison Guinn as ‘Madame Thénardier’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

Allison Guinn as ‘Madame Thénardier’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

Played by Allison Guin and J. Anthony Crane respectively, this hilariously dastardly duo are innkeepers of the iniquitous, Au Sergent de Waterloo, where Cosette is raised in indentured servitude.

J Anthony Crane as ‘Thénardier’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

J Anthony Crane as ‘Thénardier’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

Whether you’ve seen it once or a dozen times, as I suspect many in the opening night audience had, Co-directors Laurence Connor and James Powell give us an awe-inducing production so magnificently staged, so brilliantly performed, and so beautifully sung.  Kudos too, for the evocative golden-hued scenes by Lighting Designer Richard Pacholski, who conjures up street scenes reminiscent of Dutch artist Petrus van Schendel’s firelit paintings and edge-of-your-seat, new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker that are gloriously played by Conductor Brian Eads 14-piece orchestra on a total of 28 separate instruments.

(From L) Joshua Grosso as ‘Marius,’ Phoenix Best as ‘Éponine’ and Jillian Butler as ‘Cosette’ ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

The night I saw it the magnificent operatic baritone, Andrew Love, received a standing ovation and rousing cheers for his understudy performance of Javert.  And, in an eyebrow-raising surprise, the audience stayed through all the bows.  Not one person fled before the lights went up.  A rare sight in today’s theaters.

Absolutely brilliant in every way.

Through January 7th, 2018 at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets call 202.628.6161 or visit OnLine Ticket Office

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