To say I had high expectations for the longest-running musical of all time would be an understatement, and those expectations were met and surpassed. On December 6th at 7:30, I went to see Cameron MacKintosh's version of Les Miserables at the Orpheum Theatre. Directed by James Powell and Laurence Connor, this musical based on Victor Hugo's book of the same title revolving around the French Revolution was everything I expected and more.
Jean Valjean was played by J. Mark McVey, winner of the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Actor. This title well deserved. His voice and acting were brimming with emotion and power. Juliana Simone's performance of young Cosette was heartfelt. Her clear, tear-jerking voice was strong for a very young girl, perfect for the role. However, Jenny Latimer, playing older Cosette, seemed far less fitting. She overused vibrato and was less believable than her younger counterpart. I also found Max Quinlin's Marius to be insincere, so the love at first sight relationship between Marius and Cosette was a low point in the musical; forced, cheesy, and unconvincing. Quinlin did impress me singing "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" with the utmost grief, but the portrayal of his relationship with Cosette didn't improve. Chasten Harmon as Eponine, on the other hand, gave a stunning performance. Her voice stood out to me as the strongest and most unique of the cast. Her heartbreak over Marius' infatuation with Cosette was painfully real, and her death was the first scene that made me cry. Every character who died pulled at my heart, especially Gavroche as portrayed by Sam Poon.
The set and effects were stunning throughout the play, especially the use of projections as part of the set. The moving projections made it look as if people were walking through the city, through sewers, and even jumping off a bridge. It contributed a unique aspect to a theatrical experience, making it look in some scenes like a movie shot from multiple angles. That effect wouldn't cater to everyone's taste, but I personally appreciated it. Although there was no revolving stage, the scene transitions were seamless, the set pieces rolling on and off while the action was happening without distracting from the dialogue. The lighting was also artistically done. The opening number stood out, beginning heavily shadowed then transitioned to numerous spotlights trained dramatically on Valjean. They were obstructed by the moving set, creating an ominous barred effect over him. The set was spectacular, making the story seem real, as if it were happening right then in downtown Minneapolis. All the set pieces were huge, making me feel insignificant in the face of the characters’ revolution and their world.
Les Miserables is an experience I will never forget. The acting, for the most part, was beautiful. The strength of my personal investment in the story surprised me. It sent a powerful message about the importance of love and kindness. Even for the few hours of my life that have now been spent in tears, I am grateful I had the opportunity to see this production.