Monday, July 2, 2012

Les Miz Returns to Seattle

The touring company Les Misérables returns to the 5th Avenue Theatre

One Day More - photo by Deen van Meer

reviewed by Alec Clayton
The touring production of Les Misérables has returned to Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre for the ninth time, and it is as good as ever — not better than, mind you, but as good as. This is a new version, the 25th anniversary tour, is slightly scaled down but still with mind-boggling sets, lighting and special effects. And, of course, that most marvelous of scores.

There are no changes in the book or lyrics that I noticed, although not having memorized all of the lyrics I can’t say that with absolute certainty. The changes are in the set and lighting. The most notable change is the set does not revolve. The revolving set that turns the slums of Paris into the barricade has for 25 years been one of the most memorable aspects of the Les Miz set. Now it is gone. In its place are static set pieces that move in from the wings and mind-boggling film projections that blend with the live action on stage to create cinematic effects that are beyond realistic. They are dizzying and disorienting in places with camera zooms combined with movement on stage to create believable illusions of movement in extreme depth — exhilarating when the rebel forces march forward and frightening when Jean Valjean carries Marius into the sewers beneath the city. I won’t even try to describe what happens when Javert jumps off the bridge except to say it impressively brings back memories of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

These projected background scenes pay homage to the novel and lend an air of authenticity because they are based on paintings by the author, Victor Hugo.
Barricade - photo by Deen van Meer

The opening scene has also been changed. It has moved from the dry gray fields depicted in the original production to a ship with the prisoners forced to man the oars and Valjean’s thunderous prologue ends with a movie-style title sequence. The audience is left amazed and breathless, and the show proper hasn’t even started yet.

Watching this show — my third time at the 5th Ave —I was reminded of why Les Miz is the longest running musical in the world. It is because it may well be the best musical in the world. Of course no one can definitively say what is the best; that’s a matter of opinion. But facts and figures testify that it is the most popular, and I for one would be hard pressed to think of anything better.

Lovely Ladies - photo by Deen van Meer
Fall of Rain - photo by Deen van Meer

The story is heart wrenching and epic in its scope although forgivably over dramatic and romantic. Not really believable, but who cares?

I am tempted to compare this production with that by the original touring company with Colm Wilkinson as Valjean. I think the original may have been a little bit better, but in saying that I have to take into consideration the fact that I was seeing it for the first time then. If Peter Lockyer, who plays Valjean in this version, does not have the impact that Wilkinson had he comes awfully damn close. Like his predecessor, his whispery, plaintiff voice on “Bring Him Home” is mesmerizing. And all the rest —Andrew Verela’s powerful Javert suicide soliloquy, the hauntingly sad “Turning” and “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” by Marius (Max Quinlan) and company, the hilarious “Master of the House” by Timothy Gulan as Thénardier and Shawna M. Hamic as Madame Thénardier, and of course the beautiful “I Dreamed a Dream” by Fantine (Betsy Morgan) —are all outstanding.

The show has a very short run, two weeks only.

Les Misérables by the Numbers
  • Les Miz has played 42 countries and been translated into 21 languages.
  • It has played more than 45,000 professional productions plus 2,600 school productions.
  • There have been 40 cast recordings.
  • Load-in and load-out requires 80 stagehands working 16 hours (in) and eight hours out.
  • The show travels in nine semi-trailers with a total of 40 trucks.
  • There are 5,000 props in the show, including eight loaves of bread.

WHEN: Tues.-Wed at 7:30 p.m., Thurs. and Sat. 2 and 8 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sun. 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. through July 9
WHERE: The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Ave., Seattle
TICKETS: starting at $49
INFO:  or 888-5TH-4TIX or call the box office at 206-625-1900

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