Les Miserables Playing In St. Louis February 2-13 Review
Most anyone who knows me knows that my all time favorite Broadway musical is Les Miserables. Set in 19th Century France "Les Miz" is the stroy of one sinful man and his redemption amid the backdrop of a tumultuos France landscape. The story echoes of eternal importance and stirs the soul.
So when my friend Liz offered Kendra and me two free tickets to the show of course I said yes. Kendra had never seen the show before and I was eager to share it with her. The performance is playing at The Fox Theatre, where I spent the first ten years of my employable life working in the tickets division. I had seen the show about ten times before as a result of working at the theatre. The first time was with the first National Touring Company in 1988. I sat with my friend Sandee and we watch the show mouths agape. It was incredible.
So I was ready to be moved again since it had been more than ten years since I had seen the performance. I love the story and pretty much know every word to the show. We sat and the orchestra began to play. I squeezed Kendra close and sat back ready to be taken away.
As I watched the first act several thngs were aparent. These performers had done this show many times. I don't mean that to be a compliment. They sang without passion and as if they needed to be somewhere right after the show. There was a huge lack of believability to their efforts. The score was sped up quite a bit. This became painfully clear during Javert's act one solo "Stars". This is a poigniant song that leans sympathy to the plight of the show antagonist but in this version it was nearly a toe tapping fast paced number. Also there were several short segments of songs that were completely cut. I am not sure if this was an attempt to make the 3 hour show a tad shorter or what. Overall it didn't seem to make much difference other than to add to the lack of passion in the perfomances.
Randall Keith's Jean Val Jean was acceptable. Nothing great came from him. He led the cast in a manner that was indicative of the "been there done that" feel. Especially in Act One, Keith was very aparently singing with a lack of zeal. Though technically acurate his act one vocals were lacking the passion that stirs the heart in the story. He delievered the goods in act two in quite possibly the most passionately written song in the show, "Bring Him Home". However in many ways it was too little too late as that song is a good two hours and fifteen minutes into the show.
A terribly miscast Robert Hunt in the role of Javert only added to the turmoil. He had very little stage presence in the role of the police inspector who becomes obsessed with tracking Jean Val Jean. He brought no power to the performance and commanded no respect when on stage. Kendra did not realize the significance of the character until he took the final bow before Val Jean in the curtain call. He was completely forgetable.
John Andrew Clark suffered the same fate as the student rebel leader Enjolras. Not nearly the correct stature and size for the demanding role, Clark was uninspiring and unconvincing as the leader of a revolution.
There were bright spots in the cast. The females were particularly strong. Tonya Dixon was as good a Fantine as I have ever seen or heard. She brought the proper amount of pain and agony into the small role that haunts you throughout the show. I was only disapointed that the faster orchestration that ran throughout the show hampered her performance of "I Dreamed A Dream". Otherwise she was excellent.
Melissa Lyons was exceptional in the role of Eponine. She brought the powerhouse performance of the night as she sang "On My Own". I believe this character gives the show heart and was disapointed when the recent film cut the part all together. Lyons delivered and I found her take on Eponine fresh and well done.
Jennifer Butt (no jokes about the name please) was fine as Madame Theardiner although she nor David Benoit as her husband brought anything fresh to their performances. I thought Ms. Butt played the role well. It was aparent she had seen many others play the role the exact same way. Vocally she did fine and was useful as the comedic voice in a dark plot.
The role of Cossette was played by an understudy whose name I did not write down. She was most certainly the weakest of the four female leads but I took into consideration that she was performing a role she doesn't always play. She was passable but her upper registry was a bit weak.
There were some bad sound engineering moments and a couple of followspot issues but techinically the show was fine. Maybe that was the problem. The cast achieved an acceptable level of technicality but lost the heart in doing so. I am very thankful to my friend Liz for allowing Kendra and me the opportunity to have a nice night out. The show was good but that is a bit sad when it could have been great.