Saturday, September 3, 2011

Quick review: Les Misérables (in Denver)

Posted By on Sat, Sep 3, 2011 at 8:28 AM

The first time I saw Les Misérables was back home in Chicago, sometime in the late ’80s. I was in love with all things French and Broadway musicals at the time, so it's no surprise that I've held fond memories of the production all these years. (A co-worker of mine remembers crying through most of the second act, when she, too, saw it as a teenager.)

Fast-forward to today. Les Mis has hit the road for its 25th anniversary, with new staging and scenery. After seeing the production this week at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts' Buell Theatre, I'm thrilled to say I still have the same sense of enthusiasm for this piece.

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For those not familiar, Les Mis is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. It is set in early 19th-century France, and tells a story of redemption and revolution.

While the first half, coming in around two hours, keeps a quick pace, most of the outstanding songs are in the second half. J. Mark McVey plays Jean Valjean, and according to his bio, he made his Broadway debut in this role. Through this touring act, he'll be adding to "his 2,900+ performances." His rendition of "Bring Him Home" is passionate and intense.

Chasten Harmon's Éponine will give you shivers down your back during "On My Own," and Justin Scott Brown, as Marius, soars in "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." As a full chorus, the company hits the mark in all of their pieces, but especially "One Day More."

And then there's the staging. Much discussion has been had about the turntable that had been used in the original that no longer exists. I rather liked the series of staircases that were continuously reinvented throughout this version. They became a character of their own, as pieces and parts were added and removed to change them up for different scenes.

And film projections, while not always impressive, certainly gave the sewer scenes an inspired feeling of movement.

I will add that within seconds of the last note, it felt as if the entirety of the packed Buell Theatre was on its feet in applause. It was something the likes of which I've rarely seen at theater performances.

Les Mis runs in Denver through Sept. 10, with evening and matineé shows.

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