Cameron Mackintosh’s New 25th Anniversary Production Of Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables, now playing at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts, is not only the most gorgeous Les Miz you’ve ever seen, it’s one of the most gorgeous productions ever, so perfectly realized that it may make you wonder who ever thought this show needed the revolving stage of the London/Broadway original. Then again, designers back in 1985, when Les Misérables opened in London’s West End, could hardly have imagined the technical advances that make this revolutionary return to Victor Hugo-land a reality.

 The combination of Matt Kinley’s set design (“inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo” and made possible by the extensive use of projections, many of them animated), Paule Constable’s exquisite lighting design, often bathing the stage with an amber glow, Andreanne Neofitou’s extraordinary bevy of costumes both fancy and tattered, and a sound design by Mick Potter that fills the Segerstrom with glorious melody—all of this makes for a production worth seeing if only for its groundbreakingly beautiful design.

Add to that a phenomenal cast of leading and supporting players and an ensemble that matches them every step of the way under Laurence Connor and James Powell’s powerful direction and you have a Les Misérables that fans and newbies alike will not want to miss.

 For those who somehow never jumped on the Les Miz bandwagon, Les Misérables, Hugo’s classic tale as set to music by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, played on Broadway from 1987 to 2003 (6691 performances) and again from 2006 to 2008 (another 480 performances) It centers on two men in early 19th Century France, Jean Valjean the hunted, and Inspector Javert the hunter. Valjean (Peter Lockyer) has spent nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister and her family. When Valjean breaks his parole, Javert (Andrew Varela) determines to pursue him to the bitter end. Valjean later becomes the adoptive father of Cosette (Erin Cearlock* as a child, Lauren Wiley as an adult) as a way to compensate for the harm he did her mother Fantine (Betsy Morgan). Other major characters include the student revolutionaries Enjolras (Jason Forbach) and Marius (Max Quinlan), the latter of whom falls in love with Cosette. Providing a bit of comic relief are the Thenardiers (Timothy Gulan and Shawna M. Hamic), a couple of lying, cheating innkeepers and their daughter Eponine (Abby Rose Gould*) who as an adult (Chasten Harmon) falls hopelessly in love with Marius. Completing the large cast of principals is young Gavroche (Joshua Colley*), the beggar boy turned child revolutionary, with an additional couple dozen or so performers in various supporting roles. Les Miz is, if nothing else, a really BIG SHOW.

It is also “sung through,” which means that there is minimum spoken dialog, requiring performers who can sing and emote—and emote while singing—and do so throughout Les Miz’s nearly three-hour running time and countless costume changes.

 Southern Californians may recall Peter Lockyer from his star turn as Chris in the First National Tour of Miss Saigon, a role he also played on Broadway along with Marius in Les Miz. Lockyer now graduates to first billing as Jean Valjean and he is magnificent, a charismatic presence with a soaring tenor, and perfectly matched with L.A.-born Varela as his arch-nemesis, the relentless Javert. Varela makes the indefatigable inspector’s signature ballad “Stars” a bona fide showstopper—and just wait till you see Javert’s exit, a stunning visual feat if there ever was one.

 As for the women, once you’ve heard Morgan’s breathtakingly sung “I Dreamed A Dream,” you’ll understand why a number of Les Miz-lovers are already carping about Anne Hathaway’s “acting” the song in the upcoming film adaptation’s trailer. Morgan doesn’t just act “I Dreamed A Dream,” she sings the hell out of it, going from a crystal clear soprano to a humungous belt and back again, to deserved audience cheers. Completing the distaff trio, Wiley’s exquisite Cosette solos a lovely “Castle On A Cloud” while Harmon’s spunky Eponine makes the power ballad “On My Own” very much her own—and dazzlingly so.

Forbach and Quinlan have the requisite good looks and vocal chops to make Enjolras and Marius the most swoon-worthy of romantic leads. As the dastardly Thenardier duo, the perfectly mismatched Gulan and Hamic score plenty of laughs, the latter giving Edna and Tracy Turnblad a run for their money. Then there’s pintsized showman Colley*, whose Gavroche wins plenty of hearts with his spunky “Little People.” In smaller but similarly well performed supporting roles are John Brink (Feuilly), Ben Magnuson (Bishop), Jordan Nichols (Montparnasse), John Rapson (Batambois), Joseph Spieldenner (Grantaire), and Erik Van Tielen (Combeferre). Cearlock* and Gould* are delightful child performers.

 Rounding out the biggest, most versatile, hardest working, and most vocally gifted ensemble in town are Richard Todd Adams, Natalie Beck, Casey Erin Clark, Zoe Eliades, Ian Patrick Gibb, Ben Gunderson*, Siri Howard, Beth Kirkpatrick, Cornelia Luna, Nadine Malouf, Jason Ostrowski*, Heather Jane Rolff, Hanna Shankman, and Alan Shaw.

 Michael Ashcroft scores high marks for “musical staging” (i.e. choreographed moves in a non-dancey show). Music director Kevin Stites conducts the huge-sounding Les Miz orchestra. David Caddick is musical supervisor, Anthony Lyn associate director. Projections have been realized by Fifty-Nine Productions, with additional costumes credited to Christine Rowland.

With Tom (The King’s Speech) Hooper’s film adaptation coming out in December, interest in Les Miz’s big-stage original may well be at an all-time high. That Cameron Mackintosh’s New 25th Anniversary Production Of Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables turns out to be a spectacular theatrical experience in its own right makes it a must-see for Les Miz fanatics and newbies alike.

*at the performance reviewed

Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
June 12, 2012
Photos: Deen van Meer

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