Review: Les Misérables

Cast of Les Misérables                                                                             Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Larry Laneer
September 19, 2018

Seeing the musical Les Misérables is like meeting again with an old friend. Memories come back, but you can see the changes. The touring production has a few patches of fog, and it’s not just the stage smoke, but for most theatergoers, it will be a pleasant reunion.

Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, the show is playing now at the Thelma Gaylord as part of the OKC Broadway series. This is the touring version of a production created in 2009 for the musical’s 25th anniversary. Claude-Michel Schönberg wrote the music, and Herbert Kretzmer wrote the lyrics. Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel drafted the original French text.

Misérable means unfortunate, pitiable; poor, destitute. And, brother, they were in France during the show’s setting of 1815 to 1832. The musical interweaves multiple storylines. The program provides a handy synopsis. If your memory needs jogging, this is the show with Jean Valjean and his pursuer Javert.

As an accomplished tunesmith, Schönberg stands with any musical theater composer today. The score has soaring ballads (“I Dreamed a Dream”), marches (“The People’s Song”), poignant refrains (“Bring Him Home”), and goofy novelty songs (“Beggars at the Feast”). The production has new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe, and Stephen Brooker played by a 15-piece pit band (not bad for a touring show) with string, woodwind, and brass sections.

Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell with musical staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt (that’s a lot of captains for one ship), the production barely fills the cavernous Thelma Gaylord. You would be hard pressed to recall a darker-looking production, which fits perfectly with the story. The murk makes Paule Constables’s lighting design even more important, and it slices through the darkness like a finely honed knife. That’s good, so you can see the detailed, at times sumptuous, costumes by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland.

Overall, the production gives a fine staging to a canonical musical that rates revisiting. But it suffers slightly with too many unintelligible lyrics. In a show that’s largely sung-though, this makes a difference. It’s not a fatal difference, but it’s noticeable. Performances of some individual singers are sometimes incoherent, and chorus numbers are uneven. Granted, Schönberg and Kretzmer pack a lot into songs, sometimes more than the songs can hold.

As Valjean, Nick Cartell almost stops the show with “Bring Him Home.” His Valjean seethes as a recently released prisoner struggling in the world, does good deeds when he achieves success, and ascends into heaven in the final scene. As Javert, Josh Davis oozes sanctimoniousness and waivers at convenient times. He meets an end that should satisfy those who agree with him and those who don’t.

Mary Kate Moore as Fantine highlights the show early in the first act with “I Dreamed a Dream,” a great musical theater tune. Paige Smallwood does the same thing as Éponine at the beginning of the second act with the expressive “On My Own.”

Experienced theatergoers should enjoy revisiting Les Miz. A new generation of musical fans get the chance to experience the show fresh. In these fraught times, the musical’s finale could be seen as a call to action. The cast sings “will you join our crusade?” With elections this year, you might consider saying yes.

Les Misérables by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Herbert Kretzmer (lyrics)
OKC Broadway
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, September 19-20,
8:00 p.m. Friday, September 21, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Saturday, September 22,
1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sunday, September 23

Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.