“Do you hear the people sing? Say, do you hear the distant drums? It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!” The 2022 national tour of Les Misérables has kicked off the revolution here in Cleveland, and it’s dark, exciting, and frenetic from the moment the curtain rises.
Those fans who’ve listened to the Colm Wilkinson recording of the West End version of the show ad nauseam, or have seen multiple versions of the classic story over the years will enjoy the familiar tunes and tale, while reveling in slightly different energy to this production’s pace and vocal nuances. Those fans who are new to the plight of Jean Valjean will be enamored by the rich visuals and beautiful score.
The national tour launch is here in Cleveland! The grand return of the show that’s been self-dubbed as “still the world’s most popular musical” is nothing short of goosebump-inducing. The cast features production veteran Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean, a prisoner who jumps bail and is mercilessly pursued by Inspector Javert over many years and in many places. When Valjean steals from a kindly bishop who’s sheltered him, the bishop doesn’t turn him in to Javert. Instead, he covers for him and sends Valjean on his way with the loot, making him promise to change his life. And thus the search for redemption is underway.
This book goes back to 1862 with the publication of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables. A fiction based loosely on observed people and situations of the time, the bestseller’s characters are now brought to life today through music and themes of justice, love, and the fight for the human spirit. With music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, and book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the Cameron Macintosh spectacle is a 19th-century story with a 21st-century appeal. Prisoner 24601 is on the path to putting his life right.
The sensational cast brings the atmosphere alive in the theater. The sad “I Dreamed a Dream” song by Fantine (played by Haley Dortch) is the first song to really pang the souls of the audience, with Dortch’s voice soaring effortlessly through her longing. “I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living…”
Fantine works in Valjean’s factory to make money to support her young daughter, Cosette, who is cared for far away at an Inn (run by some horrible people named the Thénardiers). When she is kicked out of her job by the foreman, Fantine turns to prostitution to pay the bills. She is hungry, dirty, and destitute when she falls ill. Valjean stumbles upon her one day and recognizes her. He is moved with guilt and pity and vows to make things right. As she is dying, he promises he will find Cosette and keep her in his care… to “raise her to the light.”
As Valjean leaves to find the girl, he is recognized by Javert (played by Preston Truman Boyd), who promises to arrest him for jumping bail. Valjean escapes, and Boyd’s emotion-swept version of “Stars” is nothing short of chill-inducing. His melodic delivery gives the character of Javert a strong focus and keeps the chase moving forward. “And so it has been, and so it’s written on the doorway to Paradise that those who falter and those who fall must pay the price!”
Years pass and we find Cosette and Valjean living well, but suddenly thrust into the middle of a revolution led by local students. There’s a love triangle with Marius (Gregory Lee Rodriguez), Cosette (Addie Morales), and the friend-zoned Éponine (Christine Heesun Hwang). The death of leader General Lamarque (who sympathizes with the plight of the poor) creates an uproar, causing Enjolras (Devin Archer) to call the people to arms, including Marius. The Act 1 ending song, “One Day More” is glorious and inspiring despite the pending doom.
From here Valjean continues to avert Javert, Éponine works with the revolution and street boy Gavroche to rally the poor, and love blooms between Eponine and Marius, who struggles between his duty to the cause and his love for the person he just met. The overall longing in the story continues through songs like “On My Own,” a young girl’s ballad of loneliness; “Bring Him Home,” a sincere prayer to God; “Drink With Me…,” a dirge of sadness and memories of times and people long gone; and Javert’s “Soliloquy,” a jaw-dropping final release into the agony of defeat.
The heart is strong in this play. The cast is solid, with voices that sound classically trained but have a contemporary edge. The harmonies are perfect. And there’s not much to complain about.
Speaking of which, it is strange to hear more modern utterances in a couple of places in this production. Listening to a factory worker call Fantine a “dirty slut,” and catching a townsperson uttering “What the f…” before being cut off is not something that this reviewer recalls being present in other productions, and it seems a bit out of place. Also out of place is the age-old dramatic device of how a boy meets a girl for 30 seconds and suddenly they’re “in love” and can’t live without each other. The relationship between Cosette and Marius is completely unbelievable here, but it does produce some nice music if nothing else.
REGARDLESS. Leads and secondary cast members are all memorable. Hats off to the Innkeepers, the Thénardiers (Christina Rose Hall and Matt Crowle), for being so comically despicable that we hate to love them… and love to hate them. Kudos to the touring kids who work just as hard as the adults – at this performance Harrison Fox as Gavroche, Hazel Vogel as Young Éponine, and Cora Jane Messer as Little Cosette.
The orchestra also gets a nod for its gorgeous performance. And last but certainly not least are the huzzahs for the technical elements of the show. The scenery, projections, sound, lights, and grand period costumes wrap up everything into the perfect battleground for a revolution of the soul.
Les Misérables plays now through October 30, 2022 at the KeyBank State Theatre. Tickets range from $29 – $129. More information is available at www.playhousesquare.org.
After writing for Examiner for 7 years, I brought my content to a new venue! Founded in June of 2016.
I'm a Musical Theater graduate of Ohio Northern University and a long-time performer, arts lover and former stage manager. I spent 3 years touring the U.S. with VEE Corporation, and am a proud Cleveland Singing Angels alum.
Lover of Cleveland, chocolate, coffee, dogs, scary movies, Cards Against Humanity and (of course) my awesome family.
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