On Stage: Les Miserables

I’ve seen “Les Miserables” at the Fox Theatre three or four times. Maybe five, but I don’t think so. The Wife isn’t sure either, and her memory is much better than mine.

At any rate, I wasn’t really dying to see it again on stage, especially since I’d be watching the movie version in a couple of months. Apparently the producers of the “new 25th anniversary production” were aware of these concerns and have been marketing this latest version as having new staging and reimagined scenery.

Well done, marketing people. You have me intrigued. How can you restage “Le Miz?” Does the giant rotating stage turn counter-clockwise this time? I had to check it out.

The company of the “New 25th Anniversary of Les Miserables.” Photo: Deen van Meer

Huh. Turns out you can change the scenery and staging and bring new life to classic theater. I’m not certain that the changes make it a better show but it certainly makes it fresher. If you’ve never seen “Les Miserables,” it’s a solid production of one of the great Broadway musicals. If you’ve seen it several times, it’s worth checking out for the performances and the new coat of paint.

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables” tells the story of Jean Valjean, who spent years in prison for stealing bread to feed his starving family. When he can’t find work he breaks parole and spends the rest of his life being hunted by Inspector Javert. There’s a love story with the young kids, comedy relief from an inn keeper and a student-led revolution.

But then, you knew all that.

As far as the “reimagining” goes, they really did do away with the rotating stage. The only time I missed it was the climax to the barricade scene. Other than that, they’ve brought in backgrounds inspired by Victor Hugo’s paintings that are effective in capturing mood and a sense of time and place. The show also incorporates projections that give the stage more background and depth.

Of course, all the technical tricks and lively set designs are just window dressing if the talent can’t bring the story to life. The show features several classic songs, many of which are challenging to perform. The cast, including Peter Lockyer (Jean Valjean), Andrew Varela (Javert), Timothy Gulan (Thénardier), Shawna M. Hamic (Madame Thénardier), Betsy Morgan (Fantine), Briana Carlson-Goodman (Éponine), Max Quinlan (Marius) and Lauren Wiley (Cosette), were up to the challenge.

“Les Miserables” continues to be one of the finest shows in musical theater history. The movie team has a tough act to follow.

“Les Miserables” runs through Oct. 28 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

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