Thursday, January 20, 2011

Broward Center: Les Misérables (5 reviews)

The national tour of Les Misérables opened at The Broward Center for the Performing Arts on January 18, 2011.
Cameron Mackintosh presents a brand new 25th anniversary production of Boublil & Schönberg's legendary musical, LES MISÉRABLES, with glorious new staging and spectacular reimagined scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo.
Laurence Connor and James Powell directed a cast that included Lawrence Clayton, Andrew Varela, Justin Scott Brown, Jenny Latimer, Betsy Morgan, Michael Kostroff, Shawna Hamic, Jeremy Hays, and Chasten Harmon. Scenic Design by Matt Kinley.

Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
Instead of cutting corners,‭ ‬the anniversary production of Les Miz that is playing its only South Florida engagement at‭ ‬Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center has taken the high road of a complete new staging and design.‭ ‬It is a bold move that is not always effective,‭ ‬but is arguably better than recent moth-eaten tours to which we have been subjected.

Gone is the brilliant turntable direction... and gone are the gargantuan mobile barricades...‭ ‬Both are missed,‭ ‬and probably this current production is best enjoyed by those who have never experienced‭ ‬Les Miserablés before.‭ ‬Still...‭ ‬the new ideas contributed by co-directors Laurence Connor and James Powell and set designer Matt Kinley are enough to hold our interest.
The full-voiced cast is stronger than most touring companies,‭ ‬led by Lawrence Clayton,‭ ‬the first African-American to take on the role.‭ ‬The part is grueling in its demands and Clayton is more than up to the task,‭ ‬as his upper-octave,‭ ‬celestial‭ ‬Bring Him Home certainly attests.‭ ‬Also a standout is Andrew Varela as his nemesis Javert,‭ ‬as well as Betsy Morgan‭ (‬Fantine‭)‬,‭ ‬who delivers her gymnastic aria early on and is not seen again for‭ ‬more than two hours.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for South Florida Theater Review:
Is it worth buying a ticket to the 349th road show of the allegedly retooled production of Les Misérables that opened Tuesday at the Broward Center where there’s likely an entire wall with graffiti from companies that have trundled to the barricades on it stage?

The answer is a surprising and resounding yes.
...this is a muscular and passionate version that respects the source material (meaning the musical, not Victor Hugo’s masterpiece) but has been indeed, restaged, redirected and redesigned in ways that are clearly visible.
...what’s remarkable is how director Laurence Conor and James Powell, plus musical director Robert Billig and musical stager Michael Ashcroft have dove back into the meat of the story and gotten the cast to sing the well-worn score as if it was a fresh unknown piece that just came in the mail. Every last performer invests their work with a passion that is often moving without being treacly...
The cast – down to the fourth revolutionary from the left — contains some of the best performances of the material that most people have seen other than Colm Wilkinson in the lead. Andrew Varela’s Javert avoids the overwrought classic tics to depict a human being who just happens to have a trumpet for a voice. Betsy Morgan’s Fantine, Chasten Harmon’s Eponine, Shawna M. Hamic and Michael Kostroff as the venal Thernadiers, even the urchins rotating in Tuesday night all were unassailably solid.
Then there’s Lawrence Clayton as the man who steals a loaf of bread and never hears the end of it. While he does not have that alchemical charisma of Wilkinson, the tall and broad-shouldered Clayton has that sonorous voice and the acting gravitas to provide the evening with a compelling center.
And here’s a headline: You can actually hear the people sing! Road shows are getting a ragged reputation for second-class and even third-class sound as their crews show up a few hours before curtain and try to adjust their equipment. Not here. This is arguably the most clear, balanced sound of any tour in years.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Some musicals age better than others, and Les Misérables is among the timeless... the touring production now at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts has much to offer in its grand treatment of Victor Hugo’s classic novel about good and evil, love and loss in 19th century France.
The stunning set and lighting design, by Matt Kinley (who was inspired by Hugo’s paintings) and Paule Constable , is fluid and alive. Two scenes — the heroic Jean Valjean’s escape with the wounded Marius through the sewers and an emotionally ruined Javert’s leap into the Seine — are breathtaking.
As Valjean, Lawrence Clayton delivers a strong, dignified acting performance, but his pop- and gospel-flavored singing — except for the glorious, delicately nuanced Bring Him Home — blunts what should be a powerhouse role. This tips the balance in favor of Andrew Varela’s vocally dominant, commanding work as Javert, first on the stunning Stars and ultimately on the tragic Soliloquy. You’re not supposed to root for the villain in Les Miz, but now you do.
As the desperate Fantine, who turns to prostitution to support her little daughter Cosette (a sweet-voiced Katherine Forrester), Betsy Morgan decently acts the musical’s most tragic story, but her rough-edged vocals drain some of the dramatic potential..
Chasten Harmon is passionate and compelling as Éponine, the valiant young woman who loves the student Marius (Justin Scott Brown) but loses him to the grown-up Cosette (Jenny Latimer). Harmon weds an earthy pop style to musical theater power, delivering terrific versions of A Heart Full of Love (her heart-breaking trio with the attractive-yet-bland Marius and Cosette) and On My Own.
Directors Laurence Connor and James Powell have effectively restaged Les Miz in its new environment, even giving nods to the original’s famous turntable with a few tiny instances of circular movement (though the turntable got axed in the redesign). The two seem to have encouraged bellowing and overacting, but maybe that’s to compensate for the thuds backstage as scenery gets moved. Pushing the performances to dramatic extremes isn’t necessary. The show has endured for 25 years for a good reason: Les Miz is a well-crafted classic.
Beau Higgins reviewed for
The 25th Anniversary Tour of the Tony winning Les Miserables opened last night at the Broward Center and I am here to report that it is the best time at Les Miz I have ever had.
This production of Les Miz is adorned with simply wonderful set design by Matt Kinley, inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo (Mr. Hugo was a man of many talents.) The costumes by Andreane Neofitou and the lighting by Paule Constable reach the level of excellence of Mr. Kinley's set design, and this is no small feat.
Connor and Powell have done a mostly excellent job with their cast, with perhaps just one or two weak leaks in their performing chain. Virtually every singing voice in this Les Miz is sensational, as it should be. Why would anyone be cast in a singing role in Les Miz unless they were a great singer? We have all great singers and performers on that stage, down to the last member of the gloriously thrilling chorus.
I do believe that Lawrence Clayton was miscast at Jean Valjean. He has a lovely voice, but does not have the guts and the chops to tower over this production as the actor playing Jean Valjean should.
Bringing in the goose bump factor was Betsy Morgan as Fantine. Her honest, fragile acting and her soaring voice were well matched with the show's best song, I DREAMED A DREAM.
This production of Les Miz will be remembered by most of us for its production values and for the performance of Andrew Varela as Javert. As the officer of the law who mercilessly hunts Jean Valjean for years and years, Mr. Varela used his commanding stage presence and his masterfully powerful singing voice to make his performance one that is unforgettable.
Laura Souto Laramee wrote a pale imitation of a review for The Palm Beach Post:
Les Miserables is sure to spark your interest with great costumes incredible sets and a powerhouse of a cast. The show, which opened Tuesday night and plays for two weeks at the Broward Center’s Au Rene Theatre, is a musical masterpiece.
There is a huge, powerful cast of actors that have been part of extraordinary productions.
I hope she gets an "C" from her high school journalism teacher.  My own grading of this 'review' is somewhat lower.

Les Misérables plays at The Broward Center for the Performing Arts through January 30, 2011.

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