LES MISÉRABLES National Tour Triumphantly Returns To The Fox Theatre

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The company of LES MISÉRABLES performs “One Day More" at the Fox Theatre. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Victor Hugo’s enormous novel about a failed student uprising in post-Revolution France would seem an unlikely source for a much beloved musical theatre production. Nonetheless, Les Misérables has run continuously in London’s famous West End theatre district since it premiered in 1985, and has had tremendous staying power the world over. The Les Misérables National Tour has arrived in St. Louis for a sadly too brief stay at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Running only from December 11 through December 16, 2018, this production was a bit different from my first experience with the show and largely much better for it.

It’s an intricate plot to summarize in a short paragraph, but the gist is that the story centers around a fellow named Jean Valjean who stole a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew, got caught, and served 19 years hard labor for his crime. Javert, a mirthless career officer, met Valjean while working as a prison guard and later encounters him living under an assumed name when Javert is working as a police inspector. Over the course of the performance, which spans a significant amount of Valjean’s adult life, the two play a tense game of cat and mouse. These various scenarios eventually encompass the lives of his surrogate daughter Cosette, her eventual beau Marius who is part of an ill-fated student revolt, and many others. These events not only touch on the issues, concerns and fears of Europe in the early to mid-1800s (many of which are still applicable today) but also on issues of morality. The choices these characters make and the ramifications of those choices are thoroughly fascinating.

This production boasts some truly gifted performers, most notably Nick Cartell as Valjean and Josh Davis as Javert. Both men sung their lines wonderfully and with excellent enunciation. In my first experience with Les Misérables a few years ago, I had great difficulty following the story because I couldn’t understand the actors. In a sung through musical performance, that’s a killer. Davis delivered Javert’s lines with grim resoluteness, and Cartell countered with a fantastic and moving tenor, particularly on “Bring Him Home.” Other notables from this large cast include Mary Kate Moore as Fantine, the doomed mother of Cosette, Jillian Butler as Cosette, and Joshua Grosso as Marius. J. Anthony Crane and Allison Guinn are suitably despicable as the Thénardiers, and equally thrilling in their renditions of “Master of the House” and “Beggars at the Feast.” The youngest cast members, Madeleine Guilbot, Vivi Howard, Parker Dzuba, and Parker Weathersbee, are a joy to watch.

There are some interesting design choices in this production. Unlike my previous experience, where the set piece was prominent on a turntable and marginally adapted to various scenes, this version manages to swap out set elements in darkness. This creates some surprisingly fluid transitions—the biggest coming with Valjean’s rescue of Marius through the sewers, where a combination of dark lighting and projection made an effective illusion. However, this also created some problems as much of the show is rather darkly illuminated. Spotlights were strikingly effective during the battle at the barricade but less effective in keeping your eyes trained on a given individual who may be singing at any point. Either the lighting grew on me in the second act or the technical crew started hitting their marks a little better. Also, the exclusion of the turntable reduced the effectiveness of the barricade as a backdrop. The audience is forced to watch the even from the student’s perspective. The death of young Gavroche lacks a lot of punch when hidden behind the wall, whereas a rotating set would have punched up the gravitas of his tragic sacrifice.

As daunting as a 1,500-plus page French novel or a 3-plus hour musical performance may be, Les Misérables is truly one of the deepest musical theatre performances you’re ever likely to see. Laurence Connor and James Powell co-direct this excellent performance of Herbert Kretzmer and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s lyrics and music. If you can still find seats at www.FabulousFox.com you should definitely squeeze Les Misérables into your pre-holiday itinerary.

4.0 / 5.0