Cameron Mackintosh’s new 25th anniversary production of Boublil & Shoenberg’s “Les Miserables” is being performed at ASU Gammage in Tempe through Sun, June 12 — though the venue warns that only a “very limited inventory” of tickets remain. I saw the June 7 opening night performance with my daughter Lizabeth on the eve of her 18th birthday.
She mentioned feeling a little teary-eyed once we got to our seats - remembering that she’d been seated in a similar spot the first time she saw the musical a decade or so ago. That was the year, we reminisced, that she chose to sing “The People’s Song” at a school performance.
Lizabeth shared that while she didn’t understand everything that was happening on stage during her first “Les Mis” experience, she “was very affected by it.” This particular production left her reaching for Kleenex® more than once during the final hour — and sharing them with the woman seated next to her.
I’m a little more jaded, I suppose. Still, I was quite moved by J. Mark McVey’s (“Jean Valjean”) performance of “Bring Him Home,” which I listened to with my eyes closed. This solo earned the most audience applause, not surprising given that he’s delivered “Les Mis” performances nearly 3,000 times.
Michael Kostroff delivered the crass inn-keeper “Thenardier” with comic genius. Lizabeth knows him best from roles on television shows including “Disney’s Sonny with a Chance.” Young actors performing the roles of “Gavroche” and “Little Cosette” were delightful — and fans of all ages were thrilled to meet and chat with them after the show.
Lizabeth and I agree that the work of scenic and image designer Matt Kinley, who trained with Motley Theatre Design Course, is breathtaking in this production. It’s inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, author of the mid-19th century novel “Les Miserables” that inspired the sweeping musical. We also enjoyed the musical staging by Michael Ashcroft, who has done a great deal of work with the Royal Shakespeare Company in England.
The orchestrations were especially moving and memorable so we paid special attention to the “Playbill” bios of the folks who created them. Original orchestrations are from John Cameron and new orchestrations are by Christopher Jahnke. Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker provide additional orchestrations.
I made sure to compliment orchestra members as they exited the backstage area toting black cases protecting instruments from cello to oboe. My personal favorites were Will Curry (also assistance conductor) on viola and Eric Borghi on percussion. The orchestra was masterfully conducted by Robert Billig, with associate conductor Daniel Rein.
Folks expecting over-the-top set pieces and non-stop special effects may have felt disapppointed. This is a leaner, cleaner “Les Mis” that puts story first. I’m grateful that the production’s air of simplicity refocused my attention on Hugo’s tale and the time during which it was written – leaving me eager to explore more of both his visual art and writings.
Note: Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale performs “Les Miserables: School Edition” January 20-29, 2012 (Fri/Sat at 7pm and Sun at 2pm). Auditions are scheduled for Dec 5 & 6 (5-9pm). Call 602-889-7609 to schedule an audition.
Coming up: All things “Annie”