Trust me, you want to hear these people sing

Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables. Photo courtesy of Les Misérables on Broadway
Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables.          Photo courtesy of Les Misérables on Broadway Facebook

Just when it seemed the Les Misérables hype was overkill, the brand new Broadway revival proves otherwise. The show, which opened Sunday at the Imperial Theater, features an incredible cast to give a fresh take on the classic.

The plot, if you don’t already know it, tells the story of Jean Valjean (West End star Ramin Karimloo) and the many lives he encounters/changes after he is released from a chain gang in early nineteenth-century France.

The best part about the revival was that each character had a story, as they should. I’ve seen both anniversary concerts and two touring productions and no cast has ever created such believable people within the story.

Karimloo is undoubtedly the all-star, and deservedly so. Making his Broadway debut after appearing in the West End and Toronto as the same character, Karimloo used every impressive muscle in his body to portray the conflicted, questioning man. He carried the show passionately with the vocal power of a God, bringing “Bring Him Home” to a completely new spiritual place. Karimloo’s Valjean is a must-see performance. (If you need any more convincing, I recommend this incredibly accurate Broadway.com list).

Will Swenson (Hair) gives an intense and driven performance as Javert. With consonants sharper than his jawline, Swenson displayed never-before-seen layers to this villainous character and shared a deliciously strong “Stars.” He also shared a biting onstage rivalry with Karimloo, putting the audience on the edge of its seat during Vajean’s encounters with his adversary.

“Smash’s” Andy Mientus, also making his Broadway debut as Marius, rounded out this trio of strong male performances. He portrayed the young, love struck hero perfectly, and belted a touching and heartfelt “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” Kyle Bishop (Mientus’ character on “Smash”) fans will also be thrilled to watch Mientus in a show where he survives through the end.

Caissie Levy (Ghost), Nikki M. James (The Book of Mormon) and Samantha Hill (The Phantom of the Opera) represent the leading ladies of Les Mis, and beautifully so. While Levy as Fantine and Hill as Cosette sounded as pretty as they looked and safely pop-y, James was a standout with her brassy take on Eponine, making the continually beloved character a person the audience rooted for.

Cliff Saunders and Keala Settle mastered the house as the Thenadiérs, thanks especially to Settle’s original acting choices, which aren’t usually seen in Madáme. Kyle Scatliffe, making his debut as Enjorlas the student revolutionary, sang with intensity and heart. While pitchy at times, his character led fearlessly, a quality required to nail the latter portion of the plot. John Rapson rounds out the list of notable performances, who brought an incredible depth to the sometimes forgettable student, Grantaire. Rapson’s presence was strong and his choices stronger, and tugged at the audience’s heartstrings with his fondness for Gavroche (Joshua Colley at Tuesday night’s performance).

The projection design, along with the other updated elements of the new production, produced by Cameron Mackintosh, gave Les Mis a fresh and visually stunning facelift. Seamless transitions sped up the lengthy show, keeping the audience’a attention at every moment.

Overall, this production of Les Mis came home at exactly the right time. It’s edgier, fresher and stronger than ever before, with a passionate and skilled cast filled with actors making their Broadway debuts telling the timeless tale of faith, love and life.

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Les Misérables

Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, additional material by James Fenton; adaptation by Trevor Nunn and John Caird; based on the novel by Victor Hugo; directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell; original orchestrations by John Cameron, new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker; lighting by Paule Constable; costumes by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland; set and image design by Matt Kinley, inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo; musical supervisor, Mr. Brooker; associate director, Anthony Lyn; musical director, James Lowe; executive producers, Nicholas Allott and Seth Sklar-Heyn; general manager, Aaron Lustbader for Foresight Theatrical; musical staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt; projections by Fifty-Nine Productions; sound by Mick Potter. Presented by Cameron Mackintosh. At the Imperial Theater, 249 West 45th Street, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com. Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes.

WITH: Joshua Colley or Gaten Matarazzo (Gavroche), Emily Cramer (Old Woman), Natalie Charle Ellis (Wigmaker), Jason Forbach (Feuilly), Nathaniel Hackmann (Constable/Foreman/Courfeyrac), Samantha Hill (Cosette), Nikki M. James (Éponine), Ramin Karimloo (Jean Valjean), Andrew Kober (Innkeeper/Babet), Caissie Levy (Fantine), Chris McCarrell (Laborer/Fauchelevent/Joly), Andy Mientus (Marius), Dennis Moench (Farmer/Claquesous), Adam Monley (Bishop of Digne/Combeferre), Betsy Morgan (Factory Girl), Angeli Negron or McKayla Twiggs (Little Cosette/Young Éponine), Max Quinlan (Jean Prouvaire), John Rapson (Bamatabois/Grantaire/Major Domo), Terance Cedric Reddick (Lesgles), Arbender J. Robinson (Constable/Montparnasse), Cliff Saunders (Thénardier), Kyle Scatliffe (Enjolras), Keala Settle (Madame Thénardier), Will Swenson (Javert), Christianne Tisdale (Innkeeper’s Wife), and Aaron Walpole (Champmathieu/Brujon/Loud Hailer).

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