Review of Les Misérables

Sunday, May 26, 2002 at 2:00pm
Curran Theatre
San Francisco, CA

This was my third time seeing Les Misérables live and in-person. The first was in San Jose in 1996 and the second was in San Francisco in 2000 (http://www.joan-almedilla.com/news/121499.shtml -- review for same cast, different location), but I truly think this was the best production of all three. Even though our seats were literally in the nosebleed section (second to last row in the second balcony), since they were the cheapest tickets at $30, I still had a great experience.

Jean Valjean was played by Randal Keith, who I thought did an excellent job with the leading role. His voice was sturdy, yet delicate and flowing when it was necessary. The only criticism I had (and it's very minor) is that there were times when I thought he didn't enunciate consonants as well as I thought was needed. But his voice was excellent, effortless, and very clear. "Bring Him Home" was just about the best I've ever heard it.

When the opening began, however, I immediately noticed something -- the orchestra was rather underpowered instrumentally. It didn't seem to be as rich as I remembered previous shows to be. I wondered if that was something decided upon locally or if the entire national tour was altered in that sense. Also, from where we were sitting, the sound wasn't very audible. There didn't seem to be any speakers in the back, but I remember there was at Phantom.

For Javert, we saw Stephen Tewksbury who replaced Joseph Mahowald who recently left the tour. But Tewksbury did an excellent job, nonetheless -- I actually thought he was comparable to Philip Quast (Australia, 10th Anniversary Concert) at some parts in terms of both voice quality and delivery. He is possibly the best Javert I've seen live at this point.

I was thrilled to be seeing Ma-Anne Dionosio as Eponine. I recognized her name as a Miss Saigon alumna and had heard good reviews about her. And for the most part, I thought she did a great performance. There were a few times, though, when I thought her voice became weak -- just once in "On My Own," which was otherwise just about flawless.

Two other names I recognized were J.P. Dougherty (M. Thénardier) and Aymee Garcia (Mme. Thénardier), who I'd seen in previous national tours. They were, of course, hilariously funny in their physical antics, particularly during "Beggars at the Feast." It seems like every time I see them, they do something different, which is very refreshing compared to other shows where the comedic relief is the same each and every year.

Marius was also played by an understudy, Matthew Teague Miller, whose name I think I recognized from a previous performance I'd seen (though I think he was in the ensemble then). He also performed better than I expected, but there were just a couple of times when his voice was ... well, not necessarily weak, but it lacked a certain depth I thought was needed, particularly during the scenes at the students' cafe (i.e. "Red and Black")..

Cosette was the other leading role that was substituted with an understudy, Ashley Jarrett, who was good for the most part except for just two or three times when her higher notes were just a hair flat. It also seemed that her voice wasn't quite strong enough in parts of the upper register, noticeably in "In My Life."

Fantine was played by Jayne Paterson, whose performance was solid and very satisfactory. Her movements on stage were very effective in adding another dimension to her character that I don't think I was able to really "get" in previous performances I'd seen. I'm not sure who played Gavroche, but while his voice was on key and fairly clear, he had no stress on the words that were required to show that he had any spunk or spirit. Everything just seemed to be nonchalant and slurred together.

I know that there were revisions to the songs after the Broadway 10th Anniversary, and that some deletions were made in the last couple of years because it was too long. I was actually fairly disturbed by the deletions because they 1) took away from what made these songs great in their original form and 2) made the entire performance feel very rushed. Even in places where the text was not tampered with, there were deletions made in the instrumental areas. It especially was rushed after intermission in "At the Barricades (Upon These Stones)" -- some of the instrumental was deleted and the tempo sped up. It felt like it was suddenly "On My Own" -- and the instrumental intro to that was shortened as well. I believe "Building the Barricade" was shortened to near non-existence, and "Javert's Arrival" and "Little People" were sped up quite a bit. Even more bothersome was the rushing of the tempo in "A Little Fall of Rain" -- it took away from a lot of the potential impact of Eponine death. Such deletions and tempo speeding occurred throughout both acts, but the biggest impact was in his beginning part of the second act.

It seems like such a crime to cut parts of songs out. Some of the pieces were such great songs on their own, but now with entire chunks cut out, they can no longer stand on their own anymore. One case in point is "Come to Me," which I think is one of the prettiest songs in the show. The entire second verse has been deleted, and it profoundly changes the balance of the song. The same goes for "Turning" -- the second verse is deleted, and I've always thought this verse to be a great illustration for how tragic the senseless loss of the students was. "Who will wake them, no one ever will. No one ever told them that a summer day can kill. They were schoolboys, never held a gun, fighting for a new world that would rise up like the sun. Where's that new world, now the fighting's done?" So very sad they cut that ...

There was also a similar cutting in the "Prologue" after Valjean is released on parole. They cut out the part where he's looking for lodging ... Starting from when the Innkeeper's Wife sings, "My rooms are full, and I've no supper to spare ..." etc. That was good for illustrating how discriminated Valjean was for being a paroled convict, and part of that is now missing.

There were several other changes I noticed. There was a shortening in "The Runaway Cart," deleting the lines from the on-lookers and getting to the actual rescue faster. The entire instrumental part that backgrounds Cosette's labor of moving the chairs off the tables is gone, and she's doing the heavy lifting now while singing. Young Cosette was played by Kassandra Marie Hazard, and while she did a fine job of not letting the physical labor affect her singing, I'm sure that may not be the case for all young girls who now play this part. Also cut from "Castle on a Cloud" is the little part before Mme. Thénardier comes in ("Oh help, I think I hear them now ... and I'm nowhere near finished sweeping and scrubbing and polishing the floor. Oh, it's her ... it's Madame!") Now Mme. Thénardier arrives before Cosette's done with "Castle on a Cloud" and stands there, exasperated while the song finishes, then immediately launches into "Now look who's here! The little madam herself, pretending once again she's been so awfully good ..." etc. These cuts aren't at parts that are as essential, but I still miss them.

Other cuts that I guess I can understand (but don't like still) were:

- in the intro to "Master of the House" omitting from "Mine host Thénardier was there, so they say, at the field of Waterloo," and resumes with Thénardier singing, "My band of soaks, my den of dissolutes" etc. Luckily "Master of the House" itself is intact and terrific as usual.
- "Eponine's Errand" lost the instrumental intro that leads to Eponine's line "Cosette, now I remember. Cosette, how can it be?" etc.
- "The Attack on Rue Plumet" was also shortened, omitting the verses after Thénardier says, "One little scream and you'll regret it for a year" and Eponine screams right after that line.

There were more, I'm sure, and I will be able to confirm them -- I just got tickets to see it again next week! I must be crazy, but I think we already knew that. Just don't tell my parents the seats are $80 this time! Ha ha ha ... =)

I will write more after then, but for now, I will leave this performance's review at 4 out of 5.

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