For those who love the musical phenomenon Les Misérables and have been patiently waiting for its return to Altria Theater, the wait is over my friends.
With new staging that sometimes tips its hand to modern-day technology this touring show is a triumph of the heart and the senses.
Set in the early 1800s during the time of student political rebellion against the government, the complex show brings to life the story of commoner Jean Valjean, who following time on the chain gang for a crime of the heart, changes the course of his life after experiencing a kind, loving deed from the Bishop of Digne. The show’s message of love and forgiveness in a time of unrest is a message sorely needed today.
The show’s large, talented cast tells this story with passion and finesse. Vocal performances are top-notch, from the ensemble to lead characters.
The new staging and detailed props work well on stage. There are a few moments when the technology fails to wow but overall it enriches the reality of the experience.
One of the negatives on opening night was the sound. Not sure if it’s Altria’s issue or an issue with the tour’s sound system but there were times when it was difficult to understand the words, which in this musical are so important to the progression of the story.
In regard to the opening night performance, I really want to single out Christopher Viljoen for his portrayal of Jean Valjean. A native of South Africa, Viljoen is a swing and understudy for that role and had to step in when the lead got sick. Since I’m not sure if Viljoen will perform the role in the remaining performances, I wanted to ensure his opening night Richmond debut was properly recognized.
I have been lucky enough to see this show performed four different times. Viljoen’s performance was the best portrayal of Valjean I have seen. He carries himself with confidence on stage and his vocals are absolutely mesmerizing. One of my favorite songs in this musical and in musical theater in general is the poignant “Bring Him Home.” Viljoen’s rendition leaves you breathless. The gentleness of it touches your heart and soul.
I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. During his performance of that song you could hear a pin drop in the theater. At the end it was rewarded by thunderous applause that lasted for minutes – not seconds. I wanted the chance to say Bravo for a job well done.
Les Miserables runs through October 28. Be sure to catch it.