A thousand-page novel whose title translates to “The Miserables” wouldn’t be thought of as typical fodder for a successful Broadway musical.
More than 20 years, $1.8 billion dollars, 40,000 performances and eight Tony Awards later, that assumption has been proven wrong. And the lavish, elaborate and emotional musical Les MisÃ?Â©rables has returned to Boston for another run, proving all of the statements false yet again.
Adapted from Victor Hugo’s book by composer Claude-Michel SchÃ?Â¶nberg and librettist Alain Boublil, the show received little support in its earlier years. The story was too long, the plot too complicated; Puccini attempted to adapt it into an opera but gave up, thinking the show too complex for the stage.
After attracting the attention of British producer Cameron Mackintosh, however, Les MisÃ?Â©rables was staged.
It opened on Broadway in 1987, ran until 2003 and will soon be revived in New York for a limited run.
It has been performed in 38 countries and 242 cities. There are currently five productions playing in the world, in London, Prague, Berlin, Mexico City and a national tour in the US.
The secret to the show’s longevity and popularity lies not in its elaborate sets and costumes, its powerful love ballads or even the rhythms of its melodies. The true appeal lies in its timeless themes.
Les MisÃ?Â©rables tells the story of Jean Valjean, a former convict attempting to make his way in the world and eventually into Heaven. He is faithfully followed by Inspector Javert, a policeman who is obsessed with incarcerating Valjean for breaking his parole.
Set against the background of a revolution led by French students, Les MisÃ?Â©rables is a story of love, politics, religion and redemption.
Acted on the vast stage of the Boston Opera House, the production involves more than a 12,250-pound barricade and a 34-foot diameter turntable.
The sets are lavish, complicated and extremely symbolic but transition seamlessly from scene to scene.
These sets alone, however, do not carry the show. The strength of the performance relies heavily on the actors, who shoulder the burden of portraying the passage of time as well as emotion.
The two central characters, Valjean and Javert, are superbly performed in this tour.
As Valjean, Randal Keith brings a quiet dignity to a role that touches on violence and anger as well as heroics and tenderness.
Keith, who originally auditioned for the role of Javert, was asked to sing for the protagonist instead. He was selected by Mackintosh to play Valjean in the closing cast on Broadway and then joined the national tour.
The character of Valjean spans dozens of years and emotions.
After 19 years of imprisonment, he is almost animalistic in his actions, but as the years pass, he develops into an upright and honest man. Keith reveals the deep anguish and fear, as well as the unflappable faith, that carry Valjean through his lifetime of trials.
He brings true torment and despair to “Who Am I?,” showing the dilemma of doing the right thing in the face of temptation, and the quiet prayer of “Bring Him Home” is pure and sincere in its love and hope.
Robert Hunt’s Javert, the policeman dedicated to imprisoning Valjean again, parallels the inmate.
The child of a prostitute who was raised in a jail, Javert lives by what the law and Bible tell him is right and wrong.
He is scornful of Valjean’s pleas for mercy for the sake of another and states bluntly, “men like you can never change.”
When forced to doubt the morals by which he has lived his life, he is thrown into confusion and despair.
The supporting roles are equally as strong. Joan Almedilla’s Fantine shows the desperate measures a mother will go to for the sake of her daughter. As Eponine, Melissa Lyons is wistful and sympathetic; her rendition of “On My Own” is truly touching.
Victor Wallace’s Enjolras is charismatic and charming as the leader of the students’ revolution, burning with true intensity as he asks, “Do You Hear The People Sing?”
As Monseiur and Madame ThÃ?Â©nardier, Fabio Polanco and Jennifer Butt provide comedic relief through their antics as low-life innkeepers out to make a dollar in any way they can.
Unfortunately, the entire ensemble does not share this strength. Adam Jacobs’ Marius appears flighty and weak, and his vocal strengths are lacking. The insistent vibrato that ends every note he sings detracts from the lyrics of the songs.
The show’s success is not based on the actors working with each other or even with the stage, but with their content and the true emotion behind the material.
Despite the numerous deaths that occur and the tears that are drawn from the songs, the failure of some and the fear of others, the show still portrays Hugo’s faith in tomorrow bringing a better world.
His sympathy for the outcasts of society and evidence of his faith in God never leave the stage.
A deeply spiritual story, Les MisÃ?Â©rables begins and ends with the influence of faith on the characters.
No matter how miserable their lives, they still believe that hope and promise lies in the future. When the spirits of Fantine and Eponine finally lead Valjean to heaven, the company marches from the stages’ darkness into the lights of tomorrow.