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Theatre Review (LA): Les Misérables at the Ahmanson Theatre

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The epic musical Les Misérables has made its appearance again but this time in a re-imagined production. I had just watched the 25th Anniversary concert with a cast of 500 at O2. It was impressive to say the least. It took me awhile to downsize my expectations for this, dare I say, intimate production with a cast of 38, but the directors Laurence Connor and James Powell are the same as for the Anniversary production so they really know the show and were able to re-imagine it for a smaller venue and cast. What we are treated to is a new version of this now-classic story using new sets and new orchestrations.

The set is pretty simple, with two tower-like buildings on either side of the proscenium and the rest done by rolling in a piece of furniture or set piece, set against magnificent projections of Victor Hugo’s drawings from Les Misérables which really evoked the period. Gone were the turntable and barricade; instead the attention was on the story and the characters.

I must admit when I first saw Les Misérables it was in movie form, the Claude Lelouch version starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, which mixed the time frame from Vichy France to the French Revolution. I also saw the Liam Neeson version directed by Billy August. When I first saw the musical I was disappointed at how much of the story had been cut up. The hero Jean Valjean went from prisoner to mayor of a town in just a matter of a few scenes. But then there is that glorious though a bit overwrought score by Boublil and Schonberg; they are French, the story is French, it’s a French classic, so they have the right to write a very emotional score. The individual songs by now are classics in their own right: “On My Own,” “Master of the House,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” “The People’s Song,” and “Bring Him Home.” They sound particularly gorgeous thanks to whoever did the sound balancing. The music never tops the singers but is always full.

The cast for this tour is first-rate. J. Mark McVey plays Jean Valjean. He has performed the role several thousand times but he performed it here as if it were the first time. Fantine is magnificently portrayed by Betsy Morgan. Shawna M. Hamic (who was in the huge 25th Anniversary production at O2) is in top form and Michael Kostroff as her slimy but funny husband joins her. Jeremy Hays is formidable as Enjolras. Justine Scott Brown and Jenny Latimer are the lovers whose plight always brings on the tears. Andrew W. Varela makes a powerful Javert.

Les Misérables will play at the Ahmanson Theatre through July 31.

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