Les Miserables

Les Miserables

Her dress is different! It used to be black, and now it’s white!

Shocking, isn’t it? Cosette’s dress, from the end of Act I of Les Miserables is no longer the black dress with the white lace collar. Now, it is white with a black lace collar.

To quote Urinetown,: “GASP!”

Take heart, traditionalists. Even if the dress has changed, most of the show is still the same. In fact, some of it is even better.

The famous musical has re-opened on Broadway, for a limited six-month run at the Broadhurst Theatre. In a faithful, successful adaptation of the original, few and small changes have been made – many of them for the better. Most of the traditions are maintained – the revolving stage, the marching in “One Day More” – but, staged in a smaller scale production, in a smaller theater, this Les Miserables is more close and intimate, giving its audience a deeper look at these characters and their stories.

Based on Victor Hugo’s lengthy novel of the same name, Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean, a man jailed for stealing a loaf of bread and remained imprisoned because of his numerous attempts to escape. After being freed, he sheds his former identity and begins a new life. However, Javert, the policeman who freed him continues to follow him, determined to return the man to prison. Throughout the remainder of his life, he adopts a dead woman’s child, participates in a minor revolution and eventually experiences his final confrontation with Javert.

The past and current success of the musical can be credited to the basic themes of the story. Regardless of the hundreds of years that have passed since the novel was published, and the decades that have passed since the play premiered, faith, forgiveness, redemption, and love, are timeless and still touch audiences of today.

Taking over the roles that have been played by so many in the past, the actors have obviously attempted to give them something new. Some succeed, and some don’t. In an attempt at innovative casting, Daphne-Ruben Vega was cast as Fantine, the deserted mother of Cosette, who loses her job and resorts to prostitution to survive. The attempt was well-meant, but it did not succeed. Ruben-Vega possesses such a distinctive voice and face that some roles are simply not suited to her, and unfortunately, this one of them. Her raspy vocals are not used well in her solos, and when she steps into the ensemble later in the show, it is impossible to ignore that she is there.

Sadly, the same can be said of Norm Lewis’ Javert, who can only be described as robotic. It is hard to believe that such a complex role can be glossed over, but he manages to do it. A man obsessed with being righteous, he is tormented by the thought of anyone breaking the law – whether created by man or by God. That passion, however, is severely lacking in Lewis’ performance. When facing off with Valjean, he is overshadowed by Alexander Gemingnani, and when alone onstage, he seems to be merely reciting his lines and in a hurry to get off. The same statement can be applied to Cosette, played by Ali Ewoldt. She is still sweet-faced and voiced, but it stops there. And as her lover, Adam Jacobs brings nothing new to the role of Marius.

The opposite can be said of Gemingnani, however, who quite fills the role of Valjean quite ably. Both physically and emotionally, Gemingnani is an extremely strong lead. His Valjean is a bit softer and kinder, as well as more human. His struggles with his past and his future are sympathetic and relatable.

The true surprise of the evening is Aaron Lazar’s Enjolras. Coming from The Light in the Piazza, where he played the romantic lead, he now steps into a much more serious role here, and it suits him very well. As the leader of the student’s rebellion, he is deeper and more thoughtful. His words are sung more quietly, and they weigh more heavily. Under his leadership, the ensemble of students seems more alive than ever before. “Drink With Me” is no longer a group melody – it is an attempt to define what it is these boys are doing out there. And their death is more of a tragedy.

With the recent mid-term elections and the reshaping of Congress, the story of the revolution holds even more weight today. This battle may be between red and black, instead of red and blue, but it is still people with ideas fighting for a better future. These boys really believe that “there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.”

Amidst the life and death of the show, Gary Beach and Jenny Galloway as Thenardier and Madame Thenardier provide much-needed and appreciated comedic relief. Their scenes are non-stop laughter, which can be credited to the understated subtlety in their performances as the uncouth innkeeper and his wife. A wave of a hand or a slight smile by these skilled performers makes so much difference – and creates so much laughter.

As the daughter of these two lowlifes, Celia Keenan-Bolger’s Eponine is another standout of the evening. This Eponine is stronger and more defiant. Her famous second-act melody “On My Own,” is not was wistful as it once was – although it is still quite wistful. When she ends the song, she remains onstage, in the spotlight, for one more moment. She isn’t quite ready to let go of her dream – kind of like the show itself.

While it was strange to see Cosette in a different color, it was a nice change. And never fear – she changes into the black dress later in the show.

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