It has been three years since I saw Les Misérables. It was an experience that I won’t likely forget too soon for, not only was it an incredible musical performance, it was also the first Broadway production I had ever seen.
And a big production it was, too. Les Miserables has a mosaic of characters – police, prostitutes and pragmatic students – woven onto an automatically dramatic backdrop of tragic revolution in France where there is glory in death for a cause.
It is unfortunate, however, that I do not remember all the main cast members. I do, however, have three of them, whose performances I really loved, still in mind—Jean Valjean, Javert, and my favorite, Ma-Anne Dionisio as Eponine. Her real name stuck to my memory just as her performance did. Though I was a little surprised at the casting of an Asian for Eponine’s role, I realized that her ethnicity wasn’t important—her voice was. She was a truly amazing singer.
This was the first time that Les Miz came to the Fisher Theater, and though regrettably seated at the $50 seats (way up in the balcony even for that price), it was worth it. Les Miz is one of those shows that doesn’t need to be reinvented to be successful. It has been running so long that people knew what to expect, even me.
I had heard of this musical many times before I actually got to see it, but just seeing the1800s costuming, the spinning sets, the shadowy lighting, were confirmation that all the accolades this show had gathered through the years were well-deserved. It was a production that spared no expense, and took no prisoners.
To give a short summary of the play from Online-Literature, Les Misérables is set in the Parisian underworld. The protagonist, Jean Valjean, was sentenced to prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread.
After his release, Valjean planned to rob monseigneur Myriel, a saint-like bishop, but cancelled his plan. However, he forfeited his parole by committing a minor crime, and for this crime Valjean was haunted by the police inspector Javert. Valjean eventually reformed and went under the name of M. Madeleine—a successful businessman, benefactor and mayor of a northern town.
But to save an innocent man, Valjean gave himself up and was imprisoned in Toulon. In the end, Valjean had to reveal his past. It was definitely a sad story; made sadder by the songs sung in lament through most of the musical. The performances were, to my untrained ears, absolutely amazing. I’m sure there were critics who noticed so and so’s voice not being up to par, but to me, they all played their roles to perfection. The actor/singer who played Jean Valjean carried a huge part of the play’s success.
He was the main character. His first appearance on stage sent chills through me because here was the famous Valjean, finally. His song that lamented the yellow ticket (proclaimed his former-convict status) he had to carry around with him was moving.
You felt his sadness and pain. Javert, on the other hand, conveyed his feelings of justice and self-righteousness to the audience with no problem. His posture told the whole story: He stood stiff and upright, never slouching, never flinching. His voice was superb as well. But, really, it was Eponine’s song “On My Own” that just pulled me in. What a glorious rendition it was! Here was a woman in love.
The fact that it was unrequited love made you all the more sympathize to her plight and make you want to shake the guy whose love she craved. How could he not love her?
What made these performances so much more effective were the gestures and costumes that they employed. Sure, costumes play a somewhat unimportant role in any production, but in this case, the audience is looking for authenticity, for a vision to lose himself or herself in because the viewer wants to imagine how it is to be in 19th century France.
I thought that the costume design was exemplary. Of course, the moving sets do not let you completely slide out into another world, but the appropriate raggedness of some of the characters’ costumes were all too real. One even feels like the nearer one gets to the stage, the greater chance it would be to get a noxious whiff of Paris’s poor folk. The gestures were evocative. I remember thinking how it must be to act and sing at the same time.
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