Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s novel documenting the conditions of early 1800s France as it struggled with poverty and that relatively new idea of democracy, was adapted into a musical with legions of fans who return to the story of Jean Valjean, Cosette, Marius and the revolutionary students of Paris over and over again.
Whether this is your first time seeing the show or your 100th, the US Touring production has arrived at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, bringing with it new ideas of its own.
I was first introduced to Les Miserables the musical back in 1991 when I was in, of all places, Paris in a French Language immersion program. Some of my classmates had seen the London production before coming to Paris and it was all they could talk about. One bought the cast recording and we listened to the booming, moving score multiple times.
Even in 1991, I was late to the game. It opened in Paris in 1980 and London in 1985, followed by Broadway in 1986. The English language production was produced by Cameron Mackintosh and adapted and directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird. Since then a version of this show has been playing or touring somewhere every year.
In 2014, driven by the success of the 2012 movie musical production, a Broadway revival was launched with controversial new staging, orchestrations and set design.
This lighter production did away with the revolving turntable staging of the original production and introduced large digital projection elements, using Victor Hugo’s own art as inspiration, as part of the stage design.
This is the version that arrived in Orlando last night for a run at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center.
The core group of this Les Miserable US Tour has been performing together since 2017 and their professionalism and familiarity with the material made last night’s performance very memorable.
Sure, the scale is slightly-reduced from the original touring production, but the passion and emotion is all there.
Leading the cast was Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean. His performance is definitely a highlight of the show. He brought a fascinating character to life with plenty of emotional range and his vocal chops were more than up to the match for this difficult role.
The audience responded with multiple long ovations, stopping the show for an extended applause after his rendition of “Bring Him Home.”
The part of Javert was played by the understudy Andrew Love. Javert requires a strong baritone and an equally strong constitution as he stands up to Valjean while questioning his sense of duty.
Love was more than adequate to the task. Indeed I had no idea he was an understudy until we exited the theater and saw the amended cast listing.
The other big role played by an understudy last night was Olivia Dei Cicchi who stepped into Fantine’s bedroom gown. Cicchi’s voice was clear and strong and she commanded the stage during “I Dreamed a Dream,” and delivered heartbreaking emotion for her death scene.
Other standouts include the show’s comic relief pair of Thenardier and Madame Thenardier (Jimmy Smagula and Allison Guinn respectively), Paige Smallwood who plays Eponine with the complex emotions and vocals that role requires, and Jillian Butler as Cosette who made a role with little to do seem very large.
I was anxious about seeing the updated staging and orchestrations for the first time. But my worry was misplaced. Les Miserables remains an emotional roller coaster and a stage spectacular that will tear your heart to pieces multiple times and rebuilt it with its memorable songs.
The new set design is actually quite inspired with its ability to quickly adapt to the wide settings of France without swallowing up the performers in its scale.
My only complaint is that sometimes the score soared above some of the more difficult to understand lyrics in the show, when a quieter touch would have helped the audience understand what was going on.
Les Miserables continues with seven more shows through Sunday Oct 27 in the Walt Disney Theater at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center in Downtown Orlando. Tickets are available at DrPhillipsCenter.org.
We’re lucky to have such a treasure in Orlando that can play host to wonderful touring productions like this one.
[All cast photos courtesy Dr. Phillips Center; photographers Matthew Murphy/Evan Zimmerman]
Disclaimer: CitySurfing Orlando is a Dr. Phillips Center Blogger/Social Media Partner, and we received tickets in exchange for this review. As always our opinions are honest, and the writer’s own.
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