Reviewed by Joan Tupponce
Many people were drawn to the recent film adaptation of Les Miserables because of the top-shelf actors involved in the production. Now Richmonders have the chance to see this musical phenomenon on stage in all of its glory, thanks to the touring production now playing at the Landmark Theater.
Based on the epic novel by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables is the longest running musical in the world. The haunting play tells the tale of Jean Valjean, a pauper who was sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. He is set free after 19 years but can’t escape his past as prisoner 24601 and is treated by society as an outcast. His fate changes when a Bishop shows him kindness and forgiveness by not revealing that he has stolen silver from him.
It is at this point that Jean Valjean transforms himself, taking personal responsibility for his actions and living a life of good. Over the next 15 years of his life he fulfills the last wish of Fantine by raising her daughter Cosette, helps French students fight a revolution at the barricade, and continuously averts police officer Javert who has hunted Jean Valjean for years. The musical skillfully touches on issues of morals, justice, religion, responsibility, love, and romance, wrapping them in an emotional story that will bring tears to your eyes.
The opening of the twenty-fifth anniversary production was met with cheers and a standing ovation. The show boasts some of the most memorable songs in Broadway history including “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” and “Bring Him Home.” The voices in the touring production live up to the magic that is Les Mis. They soared throughout the Landmark in spite of this venue’s somewhat inconsistent sound system. The ensemble numbers in particular, starting with “At the End of the Day” from the women workers, and including “Do You Hear the People Sing” and “One Day More,” are both refined and stirring.
Cast performances were delivered with ardor and soulful honesty. The children in the show were troopers, singing with conviction. Shawna Hamic who plays the evil-but-comical Madame Thenardier was a crowd favorite, as was Andrew Varela who plays Javert. Varela has a commanding voice and equally commanding stage presence. Briana Carlson-Goodman as Eponine was another standout talent in a cast of richly diverse powerhouse voices.
Peter Lockyer who plays Jean Valjean has a voice that reaches to the heavens. His vocals were spot-on throughout the night, eliciting tears with his final rendition of “Bring Him Home.” His passion, talent and portrayal were all outstanding.
To talk about the musical and not mention the lighting and sets would be criminal. The show’s lighting resembles an artist’s paintbrush, creating hazy portraits instead of scenes, and giving life and realism to deathly battles. Screen projections are used to create movement, fluidity and theatrical stunts such as Javert’s suicidal leap from a bridge and Jean Valjean’s heroic trek through the sewers.
Les Misérables grabs you and pulls you in from beginning to end. It is powerful and emotional. Be sure to bring a pack of tissues. You’ll need them. The show runs through Sunday at the Landmark Theater. Tickets start at $38 plus applicable fees and are available at BroadwayinRichmond.com or the Landmark box office.