The new Broadway production is svelte and fleet. Co-directors Laurence Connor and James Powell make this a seamlessly fluid production that reveals the masterpiece that is Les Misérables. Gone is the bulky turntable on which the actors used to have to time their entrances and exits. Replacing the set are two towers on either side of the stage. They represent various things ranging from tenement exteriors to the inside of the Paris sewers. From behind either tower various staircases and platforms slip out to suggest other environs.
The musical, with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer (original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel) is based on Victor Hugo's epic novel of the same title. It has been on Broadway twice previously, the most recent production ending just 6 years ago. It has been running continuously in London since October, 1985 and has toured world-wide.
In this production, Ramin Karimloo is Jean Valjean, the peasant who serves nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread to help feed his sister's starving son. Karimloo handles the central role with a gorgeous voice, intense passion and a high likeability factor.
Chasing Valjean through time is his parole officer, Javert, played with drive and fury by Will Swenson. After leaving prison, Valjean decides he can't make it in the real world as long as he has his "yellow ticket of leave." He tears it up and begins life anew, ultimately becoming a factory owner and mayor.
Caissie Levy is outstanding as Fantine, the factory worker who Valjean fires after discovery she is sending money to an illegitimate daughter, Cosette. Levy's "I Dreamed a Dream" is raw and honest with a growl accompanying the lyrics "but the tiger comes at night."
As if the above didn't already grab your interest, stealing the show is young Joshua Colley as Gavroche, the street urchin. Colley is high energy and big talent, turning in a performance that an adult would be proud to give. As the inn-Keeper Thénardier and his wife, Madame Thénardier, Cliff Saunders and Keala Settle delight the audience with a show-stopping "Master of the House." Saunders and Settle perfectly fill out the roles of the repugnant and morally corrupt comedic duo. As their young charge, Cosette,McKayla Twiggs beautifully and longingly delivers the song "Castle on a Cloud." As the young lovers, Marius and Éponine, Andy Mientus and Nikki M. James prove incredibly moving with "On My Own" and "A Little Fall of Rain."
The sound design by Mick Potter adds a dimensionality to the mood with echoing water dripping in the sewer to shots ricocheting from barricade to balcony. The projections were inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo and designed by Matt Kinley (also the show's scenic designer). Unfortunately, they are dark and difficult to make out, distracting from, rather than adding to the scene as one concentrates on figuring out what they are. These did, however, add a sense of movement as the cast marches in formation in the act one finale, a flag flying high above the group. "One Day More" will give you chills.
In general, the production is dark, with moody lighting by Paule Constable. The design calls for intricate follow-spot work, meticulously carried out by the show's spot operators.
The energy exchange between the talented cast and the screaming audience at the Imperial Theatre is palpable. This is a moving and thrilling theatrical experience.