When Les Misérables played at the 5th Avenue Theatre last year, it generated gross box-office receipts of more than $4 million. Meaning a return visit to Seattle was virtually guaranteed. The current touring production of Les Miz, as it’s more generally known, opened June 28 at the 5th, and runs through July 8, in an extravagant show that pulls all the stops out, with special effects that rival those on Broadway.
You’re thrust into the action the moment the orchestra strikes its first note (and the show waits for no one; several patrons dallying in the lobby during the intermission were left to grope in the dark back to their seats as Act 2 began). The volume is loud — so loud it detracts from the action on stage at times, so be sure to bring your earplugs (and earplugs for children should probably be mandatory). Because Les Miz is really an opera, not a musical, it would help the audience catch the nuances of Herbert Kretzmer’s lyrics by having supra-titles, as opera companies now do. This would also help those less familiar with the plot follow the sweeping storyline (which spans a few decades).
The set design is stunning, making excellent use of backdrop projections, thus enabling you to see the characters in the woods, slogging their way through the sewers, and, most spectacularly, jumping from a bridge. The pacing is fast; even though the storyline has been trimmed down — a paperback version of the book runs to over 1200 pages — there’s still a lot to get through, and the action feels a bit rushed at times.
Peter Lockyer has the most demanding role as Jean Valjean, aging from bitter convict to an old man. His voice has power during the stirring numbers, but also a more delicate grace when needed — as in one of the show’s most poignant numbers, “Bring Him Home.” Andrew Varela was another standout as the Javert, the determined inspector who relentlessly pursues Valjean over the yeras, with a deep, rich baritone. Other strong performances include Jason Forbach as Enjolras, the leader of the students, and Briana Carlson-Goodman as Éponine, whose center stage moment comes when she delivers that searing number about the pain of unrequited love, “On My Own.” The romantic leads, Cosette (Lauren Wiley) and Marius (Max Quinlan) delivered capable performances, but could have used a little fire. And the scheming Thénardiers (Timothy Gulan and Shawna Hamic) tended to play their parts too broadly (thus ensuring the show’s PG-13 rating) and on occasion obscuring the lyrics by shouting them out instead of singing them.
But overall, this Les Miz is an exciting, stirring production that’s capable of keeping you enthralled no matter how well you think you know the show. If the crowds on opening night are any indication, the show’s popularity in Seattle remains undimmed; don’t wait to purchase your tickets.