By Simone Goldstone | NB Indy Soundcheck Columnist
The musical “Les Miserables” is timeless. Not just because it’s a classic, but because at every age you watch it, the more there is to notice.
The unique characters, the lessons, and incredible depth that comes with shoving a thousand-page novel into a stage musical makes “Les Mis” the greatest musical of all time.
It brings to life emotions, tropes, and themes that everyone can relate to (redemption, unrequited love, bravery, loss, grief, children, patriotism, the list goes on).
A good rendition of a musical should bring it to life in a new way and make you look at something a little differently, and that’s exactly what this production “of Les Mis” that runs through Oct. 1 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts did.
This production of “Les Mis” made the musical a bit funnier, a bit scrappier, and a bit fresher, making it a rendition you don’t want to miss. Spoilers are below for those who have not seen the musical so read with caution.
Surprisingly, one of my favorite characters this time around was Marius, who I usually ignore in favor of the brave student leader Enjolras. However, this Marius didn’t just play a love-sick fool. Marius shouldn’t simply be romantic relief—he is the hero of the story. While sweet and tender, he should show great sacrifice and compassion. This Marius did that.
When Marius chooses to fight on the barricades instead of following his love, Cosette, it was believable. Usually, we know Marius is going to fight on the barricades because that’s the script, but it just seems like something he’s forced to do and not a choice he actually makes. This Marius made me believe in his choice—that he chose to stand with his brothers, risk his life, and fight on the barricade.
I guess the bro-code in this musical is France before Females. In addition, this Marius brought humor. When courting Cosette and when at their wedding, he was impish and bright and yet strong and sure. This production took a character I usually disregard as a plot device and fleshed him out to be the deep, victorious hero he was always meant to be.
As somebody who has read the book, the students in the secret society of Les Amis des l’ABC all have unique personalities. Especially the special relationship between Grantaire and Enjolras, the charismatic, tragic leader who believes in his country and Grantaire, the drunk cynic who only believes in Enjolras. Their brotherhood has to be believable- and Graintaire’s flaws of being a drunkard need to be balanced out by his love and wtchfulness for their young mascot, Gavroche.
The cast of the Les Amis are only given one number to establish their characters, relationships, flaws and importance. They only have the one number to establish an emotional connection to the audience or else you won’t care if they die. And luckily, this cast nailed it. These are schoolboys, and the musical makes you believe in their fight, fall in love with them, only to have the spotlight on Enjolras’ dead body hanging from a cart when they fall from the barricade.
This should be the epitome of the musical: tragedy, loss, and love fallen from innocence and ideals. Yet, the musical makes you still love France because of the people, the spirit of the underdogs, and their steadfast belief in what could be.
Now that I’m a little older, this time I paid more attention to Val Jean and Javert—after all, when you’re a kid you’re more interested in the Eponine-Cosette-Marius love triangle.
But this time I felt terrible for Javert. I understood his character. I used to just see him as the big bad, but he’s just doing what he thinks is right: catching a criminal. And in real life the world is not split into villains and heroes, just people who believe they are doing what’s right for them. To Javert, he’s the good guy, which makes his suicide so tragic. Javert’s belief in life is order, and the law.
He can’t live knowing what he built his life on- order, the law- was meaningless. That a thief (Val Jean) is a better man than him. That people change, that redemption is possible. How hard are those to accept in our lives, let alone upholding the law in 1800s France filled with urchins and sinister tricksters at every corner.
Javert and Valjean rivaled each other in voice and acting. They have to be an equal match to be each other’s foils and they were. Their voices! “Stars” gave me chills and “Bring Him Home” brought me to tears.
Fantine blew me away with her portrayal of being scrappy and tough. Usually played a delicate waif, this Fantine showed a new side of herself. And, after all, doesn’t Fantine have to be scrappy and tough to survive as long as she did? I believed this Fantine’s will to fight, to live despite her circumstance, making her untimely death all the more memorable. I was rooting for her, instead of the usual acceptance of her character being no more than a walking corpse. This Fantine didn’t give up until the very end.
Of course, the other showstopper was Eponine. Charismatic and tough, yet sensitive and self-sacrificing, “On My Own” was a highlight of the show.
The actual production—the intricate sets and pyrotechnics brought the show to life. The humor woven in an otherwise somber script balanced out the grief beautifully, making the show well-rounded and uplifting.
It’s easy with “Les Mis” to get caught in the overwhelming darkness- they are the miserables after all, so this tour uplifted it with funny gestures, comedic timing, a brighter Marius, fresher and scrappier damsels.
The triumph and beauty of the ending is even more magical when not overshadowed with tragedy. The lessons of “Le Mis” are the most beautiful in life: that you can’t chose your circumstances but you can chose where you go from there, choose to grow, to create your life no matter the cards to that were dealt, to absolve blame and forsake the past because the future is chance for redemption, for your beliefs, and to prove your soul and morals at every turn and test life gives you.
If you’ve never seen the musical, make sure you do, and if you’ve seen, make sure you see this fresher, newer, livelier version with a little less despair.
Don’t wait “One Day More” to catch it while it’s at the Segerstrom Center.
For tickets, visit www.scfta.org.