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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Theater Review—"Les Miz" Returns to Seattle in Glorious Style

Opening night at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre never felt more exciting than on June 28, when about 2,000 eager people waited for the curtain to rise on Les Misérables. But this wasn't just another Les Miz. Even lifelong fans find fresh reasons to fall in love with this new, spectacular, reimagined, 25th Anniversary production, which made its Seattle debut in 2011. This version introduced significant changes to the sets, costumes, lighting, choreography, and music.

"Lovely Ladies" - The Company of the New 25th Anniversary of Les Misérables
Photo: Deen van Meer
If you missed seeing Les Miz in Seattle last year, don't lose the opportunity again. In 2011, it ran for three weeks at 99.01% capacity, attracted over 50,000 patrons, and grossed more than $4 million in ticket sales. This year, the run lasts only two weeks and will surely sell out, as before.

"Seattle audiences have always loved Les Miz," the show's producer, Cameron Mackintosh, said in a press release. "But the reaction to the new production last year was so phenomenal, and tickets went so fast, that—to say thank you—we wanted Seattle to be the first city that we returned to on this remarkable sell-out national tour."

"One Day More" - The Company of the New 25th Anniversary of Les Misérables
Photo: Deen van Meer
As much as I admired the singing and acting, I wish to praise the talented people working behind the scenes, the designers, managers, technical staff, stage hands, and of course the excellent musicians. I especially applaud Paule Constable for the lighting design, which added as much to the drama as any human actor, becoming almost a character in itself. It takes nine computers and 1600 amps of power to run the lighting package.

"Barricade" - The Company of the New 25th Anniversary of Les Misérables
Photo: Deen van Meer

The sets, designed by Matt Kinley and inspired by Victor Hugo's own paintings, were amazing in their detail and versitiliy. And the clever use of the moving projection of background images created special effects I’ve never seen on a stage before, illusions of movement that felt entirely believable. Then, of course, there is the music that has been reproduced in nearly 40 recordings.

"Stars" - Andrew Varela (Javert)
Photo: Deen van Meer
The story’s universal themes—the human spirit’s victory over injustice, the power of love, the price of war, the ability to forgive, the virtues of loyalty and selflessness, and the hope of redemption—speak to us today as profoundly as they did in Victor Hugo’s classic novel, published in 1862. The superb acting by every member of the cast did justice to the story. It contained sincerity, sentimentality, romance, humor, bawdiness, spiritual meaning, and dramatic tension, all delivered with passion. Even the five children in the cast performed like seasoned pros.

"Fall of Rain" - The Company of the New 25th Anniversary of Les Misérables
Photo: Deen van Meer
Although, in the beginning, it seemed a little difficult to hear the lyrics, I soon found myself getting most of the words. I don’t know whether I simply became more tuned in as time went on, or if an adjustment had been made in the orchestra vs. vocal volume levels. Some diehard Les Miz fans I spoke with during intermission said it takes a few times to catch all the lyrics in any production. Nevertheless, I had no problem following the story line and appreciating the subtleties. Solo vocal performances came through clearly and moved me.

The choice of Peter Lockyer as Jean Valjean, the fugitive and central figure, could not have been better. His impassioned vocals imbued his character with humanity. Andrew Varela, as Javert, delivered his songs with power. Betsy Morgan gave a heartfelt performance as did Briana Carlson-Goodman as Éponine, who drew my compassion as the young woman suffering from unrequited love for Marius, played by Max Quinlan. Timothy Gulan and Shawan M. Hamic, as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier brought humor and physical comedy into this serious story, but with a malevolent edge that made them delightfully obnoxious.
"Beggars at the Feast" - The Company of the New 25th Anniversary of Les Misérables
Photo: Deen van Meer
I loved the costumes for their contrasting rich and subdued hues and authentic style. According to the theater, the cast’s wardrobe contained over 5,000 costume pieces, including 57 brown shawls, each one different from the others. The only costume I didn’t care for was Madame Thénardier’s hot pink dress with its puffball-like trim. I realize it was meant to represent bad taste, but its extreme outlandishness and guaudiness seemed better suited to a Disney cartoon than Les Miz. However, it took nothing away from Hamic’s superb performance.

For the sake of those who don’t care to support the arts—those who view live theater as some kind of useless liberal fluff in a society that seems less and less willing to support anything that enriches lives—I offer this point of practical interest. When Les Miz came to Seattle in 2011, it pumped $1.5 million into the local economy. Just one matinee last August grossed $202,257 and brought 2,085 extra people to the downtown retail core on a Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately, the people with whom I would like to share these statistics are most likely not reading theatre reviews.

Most importantly, theater, like all the arts, make us think, question, and explore the potential of the human spirit. Creativity is vital to a civilized world. Art matters. To all of us. Support it.

Need any more reasons to go? Here’s the link to the box office.

"I Dreamed A Dream" - Betsy Morgan (Fantine)
Photo: Deen van Meer

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