Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is a sprawling fifteen-hundred page novel about the reformed criminal Jean Valjean and his dogged pursuer Javert set against the backdrop of early 19th century France’s seamier side and the failed revolutionary activities of 1832. Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s musical "Les Miserables" is a modern day musical classic that brings the characters, the story and the atmosphere to the stage in a very clear, fully sung, richly orchestrated three hours. Opening night at the IU Auditorium attracted a large crowd that included more than the usual number of college students and other young adults.
Randall Keith who plays the morally redeemed Jean Valjean is a fine actor and a wonderful singer. His voice, from the lowest vibrant tones through the clear solid middle to a lovely free top was a delight to listen to. Even in songs whose words and melody had lost my interest his voice kept my attention. By the way, people who think that stiffer sentences are the answer to crime should appreciate "Les Miserables." Jean Valjean enters the show having served nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread. Robert Hunt was resolutely stiff as Javert, a policeman who incarcerated criminals, but himself was imprisoned in his rigid sense of justice.
David Benoit and Jennifer Butt were hits as two of the real villains of "Les Miserables," the Thenardier’s. They’re a rowdy couple of innkeepers, small time crooks, corpse robbers and party crashers. Benoit’s rhythmical "Master of the House" number has been slowed down in this production. The result helps a lot with the words, but it does diminish the drive a bit.
Adam Jacobs was Marius, the attractively romantic young student revolutionary who falls in love with Jean Valjean’s beautiful adopted daughter Cosette, Leslie Henstock. Melissa Lyons played the tragic, street-smart, boyish Eponine who’s secretly in love with Marius.
"Les Miserables" is a fascinating success. It’s sold as a musical, but it’s closer to being an opera. There’s nearly three hours of music, there’s no spoken dialogue and, for good measure, the entire text is rhymed. The musical language varies, but it sounds a little like Georges Bizet in the smoother parts and Kurt Weil in the rougher sections. In fact, though there is plenty of contemporary stage business with sets, lighting and a full stage turntable, substantial parts are pretty much like a cantata. When singers have something important to sing, they usually move to center stage and sing straight to the audience.
Throughout the evening at the IU Auditorium the show was crisp, energetic and artful. Much care has been lavished on this production. On opening night, applause at the curtain grew as the cast came out for their bows until finally the whole audience was standing.
"Les Miserables" at the IU Auditorium continues with [a two o'clock matinee this afternoon and] an eight o’clock performance tonight. Additional performances are at [eight o'clock Friday,] two and eight on Saturday, and two and eight on Sunday. You can see this and other WFIU theatre and film reviews and listen to an interview with "Les Miserables" Production Stage Manager Peter Van Dyke on our web site.