Back in 1985, the rapturous rave reviews that were heaped upon Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil at the premiere of their musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” were so thunderous and overwhelming, the cynic in me reared up and blustered out a challenge: “Oh yeah? Prove it to me.”
But for years, I didn’t allow it to do so. I refused to join the pack. For years, every time I was standing in line at TKTS to grab discounted seats to a show, I would look up at that now ubiquitous waif Cosette smirking at me — “You don’t know what you’re missing. I can promise you a castle on a cloud.” It took more than five years for me to go up to the box office and buy a ticket.
But from that moment on the show jumped to the top of my list of essential viewing. For years when anyone asked me what show they should see, I always started with “Les Miz.”
This used to bring forth:
“Isn’t it an opera? I hate opera.”
“Three hours? are you nuts?”
“Someone steals a loaf of French bread and they sing about it in a sewer?”
“I’d rather see Grease.”
I heard all the excuses. And yet, every single person that I encouraged to go, despite what they thought they knew about the show, loved it. They all bought the t-shirt, album and bumper sticker. Over the years, I’ve taken a couple of theater narcoleptics to the show and not one has nodded off. It’s just that good!
It has been a few years since I have vaulted the barricades and seen “Les Miz.” The last time, it was still spinning around boasting the spectacular staging of Trevor Nunn and John Napier’s magnificent set design. But things change. This production, directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, sadly discards the iconic revolving stage. But it still remains an exciting production. Matt Kinley’s handsome new stage design is quite fine, save for video projections which I found more jarring than appropriate. Kinley’s set is wonderfully accented by Paulie Constable’s lights and Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland’s stunning costumes.
This production is magnificent. Rarely have I seen such a collection of young talent. The actors in the key roles that vocally drive the story; Javert (Josh Davis), Valjean (Nick Cartell), Eponine (Emily Bautista), Marius (Joshua Grosso) and Fantine (Melissa Mitchell) are outstanding, each giving a heartfelt and strong performance.
Davis’ Javert is exceptional, thankfully devoid of the snarl and wink that I have previously seen undermine the role. His vocal work with “Stars” is just breathtaking and had the audience cheering. Cartell is truly fantastic and delivers the show’s gentle plea, “Bring Him Home” perfectly, without overplaying, allowing the emotion to land with a visceral hug.
J. Anthony Crane and Allison Guinn each bring the right leer and wink as “the master (and mistress) of the house” keeping the energy brisk and bawdy. Batusta’s wonderfully poignant “On My Own” and Grasso’s “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” were just about as good as it gets. The whole cast is doing exceptional work, keeping the storytelling fresh.
Added into the mix is the top-notch orchestra under the tight musical direction of Brian Eads. This is without a doubt one of the best shows I have seen at Proctors in years.
So whether it’s your fifth or 50th time, this production will not disappoint. And if you are a “Les Miz” newbie — just go already. It is so much better than “Grease.” Trust me. Highly recommended!
WHERE: Proctors, Schenectady
WHEN: Through Feb. 25
HOW MUCH: $30-$120
MORE INFO: 518-346-6204, www.proctors.org