Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo; Original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel; Additional text by James Fenton
Directed and Choreographed by Marc Robin
Music directed by Andrew Bryan
Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Beverly, MA) For a Les Mis hater, I sure have seen the show enough times. I usually go in with a cloud hanging over my head. There is something about the show that rubs me the wrong way with its overwrought attitude, even as it brings me to tears each time I see it. To make matters worse, the play lends itself to overacting; heck, it practically demands it. Bad acting abounds on the street of Paris.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying a night at the theater with the North Shore Music Theatre’s production of this musical. I kept waiting to wince at the trite sentiments, only to realize I could peek through the music to see why this story of love and loss in pre-Revolutionary France has become such a classic. Director Marc Robin has uncovered the forgotten heart of this tragic drama by not taking success for granted. He keeps the pacing tight, yet gives the actors space to truly dive into their characters, rather than put them on like coats. It’s as though he deconstructed the script to create new crescendos, rather than relying on the tried and true ones that have been worn thin by relentlessly mediocre productions.
Scenic designer Bert Scott seems to follow Robin’s lead in making the set designs truly a part of the story, rather than the story itself. The famous barricades that shelter the idealistic French students are refreshingly thin, almost symbolic of the doomed act of resistance that the students mount against the oppressive French government. Scott’s designs slide in and out of place with a minimum of fuss, despite the fast pace of this production. It is the best use of the North Shore Music Theatre space I have seen in several years of reviewing.
None of this would have succeeded without buy-in from the stellar cast. Will Ray succeeds in creating a clear path for the ex-convict-turned-saved-man Jean Valjean, allowing the character to truly wrestle with his conscious on stage, rather than vacillate for the sake of prolonging the play. Danny Rothman brings fresh and earnest energy to the supercop Javert, giving him humanity when lesser Javerts simply glower. Meanwhile, Lizzie Kelmperer gives the grown-up street urchin of Eponine an endearingly plain way of being, making it entirely possible for us to believe that her sweet love for a student could be so easily overlooked for all these years. Like the object of her affection, the audience almost overlooks her until we are about to lose her.
If you have not seen a production of Les Mis, this is the one to see. If you have seen a production, you probably haven’t seen one as good as this.