You’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger fan of Les Misérables than yours truly. Having read Victor Hugo’s novel four times and having seen the play 5 times now (including three times at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, once on Broadway, and one fantastic high school production), I consider myself to be pretty well versed in all things Les Misérables. There’s no place else I even considered being opening night when the play returned to Atlanta for the 25th Anniversary Production. What could possibly make the night any better? The fact that everyone sitting around me felt the same way. Les Misérables seems to be the one play that people actually go out of their way to see multiple times, and the one play that continues to pull at your heart strings as much the fifth time you’ve seen it as it did the very first.
Based on one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century, Les Misérables has a number of plots but centers on an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, who tries to escape his dark past by becoming a force of good in the world. However, Inspector Javert is always one step behind him eager to bring him to justice for breaking his parole. As the years pass, and Valjean manages to remain uncaptured, we see the lives of everyone he comes into contact with and the struggles that they are facing. At its core, Les Misérables tells a story of love, emphasizing to the audience that to “love another person is to see the face of God.”
Les Misérables is back in Atlanta for a limited run, and even if you’ve already seen it a handful of times – there are a few new features that are well worth checking out. One of the first major changes is noticeable from the very first song. The turntable that sits in the center of the stage is gone, in its place are two large side sets that move together and apart as the play progresses. You may be thinking that this sounds minor, but to Les Misérables junkies it is quite apparent that things have been modernized.
Ever-changing images that are projected against the back wall of the stage is another new aspect to the play. The screen helps to add more depth to the scenes – showing village buildings moving by as the revolutionaries march through the streets. Perhaps the coolest scene that utilizes this screen is when Jean Valjean is caring Marius through the sewers. Whereas in past performances of Les Misérables didn’t come close to illustrating the great description of the sewers that Hugo went into in the novel (not that it is even possible to do so in a musical), at least now we have a grander scene to convey the sheer complexities of that sewer system. (If it seems like I’m going off on a tangent here – read the novel – you’ll completely understand).
I was a big fan of the new changes, and even a fan of some the smaller more subtle changes. It was all about timing and brief pauses with an inexperienced and eager Marius singing “Heart Full of Love.” I’ve heard this song a thousand times, yet in this performance Max Quinlan(who played Marius) brought something new to the scene that illicited chuckles in the audience. While his character may have been inexperienced with love, it was clear that Quinlan was an experienced performer.
The major players are strong as ever in this tour as well. Peter Lockyer(Jean Valjean), Andrew Varela(Javert), Betsy Morgan(Fantine), Chasten Harmon(Eponine), Shawna Hamic(Madame Thenardier), and Timothy Gulan (Monsieur Thenardier) all gave truly flawless performances filled with the emotion and passionate that Les Misérables is known for evoking in its audiences.
I find it amazing that regardless of how many times I see this play, it still makes me choke up in all the same spots. “Dreamed A Dream”, “Little Fall of Rain”, “One Day More”, “Bring Him Home”, and “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables”…. yes I had tears streaming down my face that many times on opening night. This musical is a truly fantastic work of art, and while most that have seen it do declare it one of the best musicals of all time – I have to also say it’s simply one of the best stories ever told. If you’re not one of the more than 60 million people worldwide that have seen it – then you’re missing out. The 25th Anniversary tour is the perfect chance to see the magic, or to remember exactly why you fell in love with Les Misérables in the first place.
Les Misérables is playing at The Fox Theater in Atlanta through April 29th. Get tickets while you can at www.ticketmaster.com!
Review By: Emma Loggins