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Maxwell Singer

Les Misérables

Devotion, Redemption, and Revolution

“Oh god, it’s everywhere!” sings the student Marius as he holds Éponine as she bleeds out late in Les Misérables, which you can see at the Orpheum Theatre, running the 6th through the 18th. 

Bloody it was. The plot was a long, twisting epic, though entertaining enough, is far too long for me to condense right here. It is a story of redemption, devotion and revolution. At points confusing, and slightly difficult to follow, the story is easily enough understood, despite the fact that important decisions and events don’t flow well. An example being the cart in which the man is trapped under in the early scenes of Act 1 which appears to be irrelevant at first. 

After watching, it left wondering who was the story about, the protagonist. in theory it is Jean Valjean, whom the story centers around for the most part. But it does not tell the story of how he turned a bag of silver to a town and factory, and omits most of his life. I don’t believe that it is the story of Cosette, because the plot doesn’t include her, and it mostly conspirers around her. In short, I wondered who was this musical was about. 

I did some research and found out that the revolution pictured in “Les Mis” was a real event, know as the June Rebellion, in post-Nepolianic France. It was apparent that though dramatized, the events in this play were based on a real uprising.

Before I really can evaluate any personal performances, you have to understand that there are almost no spoken lines in this musical. I didn’t catch a single line where they weren’t singing. Consider yourself forewarned. I found the harmonies to be the only element of the music that really stood out. The dancing fit fine in this musical. It did not stand out, and in some scenes it was omitted entirely, because, as said earlier, there is constant singing and that includes all of the major plot points.

The singing was fine by all the cast members. None of the performances really stood out except for Chasten Harmon, who played Éponine, who I found did not harmonize well with the other actors in the songs such as “In my life” and “A Heart full of Love”. I’m not saying her voice is bad or ugly, (in some opinions it could be better than the rest,) but just that her voice stood out a bit too much and took away from the harmonies. 

One point of interest would be the projected backdrop used in this production. Though still most of the time, there were scenes that it would move, in example the scene where the revolutionaries march, and the backdrop changes to make it appear as if the people are marching down the street. I find that to be a nuisance, for two reasons. like in the scene I just described, sometimes it just made the scene worse. I would think that in that number it would be simpler and more pleasing to the audience to just march in place and leave it at that. In another scene, when Jean Valjean is fleeing through the sewers, the backdrop kicks in again and begins to make it appear that he is walking through a sewer. I have to admit that the effect worked well, but that it really wasn’t necessary because Les Mis is theatre and confined to a stage. If the producer wanted scenes like those, perhaps he should have made a movie instead. 

All in all, though interesting, I found Les Misérables to have several points of confusion for the audience. Though it is certainly not the highlight of this year’s broadway season, it is a performance to be noted. I would not recommend this to kids, no matter how interested in revolutions/armed rebellions, because for people younger than me, or with shorter attention spans, this would be boring. However, for the average viewer, it is a show worth seeing.   


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Comment by Dudley Voigt on December 8, 2011 at 1:49pm

Max,you have a very clear voice as a writer.  I like that you aren't timid with your criticisms and I can really hear you thinking out loud with the questions you are raising.  Asking who the show is about, the historical time etc, brings the reader into your experience.  

I would caution you though to consider that Les Mis is still running in London after 25 years, and was also the longest running show on Broadway.  It is well-known and well loved.  What does the reader need to know then about this new updated version?  What did you need to know going in to it to provide a fair review?  

You are right, it's a huge story that spans decades and crams a lot in, though surely can't come close to what's in the source text, the novel Les Miserable by Victor Hugo.  Wondering if you saw the plot synopsis in the program (not something usually done, but always done for Les Mis)?  

In addition to the show history in the press materials, the style of this show is "Sung-Through" meaning no significant spoken lines.  While it draws on opera, we have seen that even newer shows like Rent.  Did the voices serve the style of the music?  

Again, it's clear you are a strong writer who's very comfortable thinking critically within the format.  I'd like to challenge you moving forward to work with the 500 word format to push you to be more concise.  

Excellent effort. 


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