Talk about giving things a second chance! It’s almost theatrical blasphemy to say you don’t like Les Misérables, the blockbuster musical now getting a run at Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center. AKA Les Mis, the epic musical is one of the longest running musicals on Broadway.
The first time I saw it, I was disappointed. This was years ago when I was unfamiliar with the music and plot. The fact that the play is a sung-through musical coupled with my not usually being able to understand sung lyrics didn’t help endear me to the work.
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, one of the longest books ever written, the plot is condensed to the point where it becomes a little murky. Some of the narrative also begs logic (How the major character Valjean manages to start life anew several times and rise to someone of wealth and prominence is a bit too sketchy for me).
The intertwining of individual story lines with larger socio-political issues is also a bit clunky, at least the way the authors of the musical’s plot line create it.
Opposites Attract in Les Mis
However, a second viewing last evening left me with an opposite reaction. Now familiar with the music, I saw the genius of the score, well sung by the players and heightening the dramatic effect. The story line this time around was much clearer and I applauded the authors’ inclusion of the two Thenardiers for comic relief. It is a brilliant stroke, enhanced by directors Laurence Connor and James Powell’s execution of the rascally couple’s carrying ons every time they were seen on stage.
Les Misérables in Pittsburgh – Darkness Everywhere
I was a bit perplexed by the constant darkness of the back stage and guessed it may have been purposely appropriate for such a dark themed story. The cast headed by Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean was superb, and the quality of the acting extended to even the child actors. As Fantine, Haley Dortch touches the heart strings with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” Cartell sung very movingly the plaintive “”Bring Him Home,” and the Thernardiers (Matt Crowle and Christina Rose Hall) brought down the house with “Master of the House.”
Hayden Tee was a resolute Javert, who pursued Valjean down to the letter of the law until his awakening and subsequent drastic reaction to his own conflicted plight. The company percolated pure bliss with “One Day More”, my personal favorite song, and Christine Heesun Hwang brought out the handkerchiefs and tears with “On MY Own, while Addie Morales and Christopher James Tamayo made the loving couple Cosette and Marius believable.
My only regret is that the musical ends with a revolutionary march sung emotionally and with fervor by the entire cast instead of a reprise of “One more Day.” Nevertheless, I joined the packed house rising to my feet for a standing ovation. As I said to my theater companion as we exited the theater, “the work is a masterpiece.” Adding icing to the cake is the fact that I coincidentally saw it on St. Ceceilia’s Day, which celebrates the feast of the patron saint of music. How very apt!
About the Author
Dave Zuchowski has been writing about theater and doing theater reviews for more than three decades. His reviews have appeared in the Greensburg Tribune-Review (now the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Erie Times, the New Castle News, In Pittsburgh, and The Chautauquan Daily.
All photos courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.