Based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Book/Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Author/Dramatist: Alain Boublil
Directed by James Powell/Laurence Connor
Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Worcester) You’re probably sick of hearing about Les Miserables, and how Russell Crowe can’t sing and how Anne Hathaway can’t pick out her dress. I know I am, and I didn’t really like the musical that much in the first place. “Ornate” might be a generous way to describe how this play’s music reaches my ears; “overdone” might be more accurate. But if you can strip away the hype, it’s possible to see a really good storyline that materializes from this spectacle. After all, that Victor Hugo guy may have been no Stephen Sondheim, but he was no slouch. Penned a few novels, something about a hunchback. I hear he sold a few copies.
The 1000-page plus storyline of Les Miserables, which I have never even held in my hands, much less read, is rife with drama. Aside from some maddeningly conflicted and flawed characters, there’s also a sweet tragedy unfolding as Parisian youth take the “students rally to save the school” ethos too far, barricading themselves for a popular revolution that doesn’t materialize. All this is to say that I need to make myself read Hugo’s original text, because it’s impossible to see the musical version and not think “Cliff Notes”, too much goes on too quickly and we never get a chance to root for a character. (Les Mis lovers, please direct your hate-mail to craigidlebrook2 at yahoo.com; I am fully aware that I have allowed my personal dissatisfaction with the source material to take over the review. Watch in the next line as I transition here to get things back on track.)
The touring cast of the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables, which stopped for a week at the Hanover Theatre, does little to overcome this script’s many defects (see?). If I walked away with one impression from this production it’s that someone had a plane to catch. Massive set pieces zipped in and out so quickly that at one point I was afraid Javert was going to get impaled by the bridge railing he was moments from jumping off. This would have made for an awkward pause in the next scene. I felt queasy by the end of the night, as if I had been shackled to a merry-go-round for too long.
But actually, I didn’t walk away with just one impression of the play; no, I walked away with two. This production seems to be designed by people who think theatergoers lack any scrap of imagination. The producers spare no expense in trying to make every action believable by employing a prop piece or a special effect. We all know Javert is poised to jump off the aforementioned bridge, but just in case we don’t, he’s rigged up so he actually jumps and falls down a dark hole. But since the actor started his jump at stage level and they can’t simply plunge him down a trapdoor, (oh no, too common) they instead absurdly raise him up after he jumps and beam projections of the background falling away beneath him. Do you see the irony? To make the play seem realistic, the producers made this poor guy jump up, jump up to get down.
Look, this production is a spectacle. If you love Les Miserables, you can come and sing along with your favorite songs and chat cattily about who did and who didn’t do well in the cast. (The singing was spectacular, by the way. These folks can belt!) But I defy anyone to lose themselves in this spoon-feeding, perfunctory production.