Thursday, December 5, 2013

Les Mis is anything but Miserable

Les mis cover Last night, Munchkinhead and I went to see Les Misérables at the Skylight Theater in the Third Ward.  We’ve both seen Les Mis live before – I saw it in London and the touring Broadway production in Milwaukee – and we saw the film together when it was in theaters.  This production blew all of that out of the water.  I was thoroughly impressed with everything from the theater to the performances to the sets and costuming. 

We had mid-level price tickets as all the cheap seats were sold out; high in the balcony in actual chairs perched behind a padded balcony.  We could see everything as long as we were willing to lean forwards every once in awhile.  I loved how embellished the stage floor was, such that you almost couldn’t see all the little tape L’s marking prop placements.  The theater provided the usual Footlights program as well as an Audience Guide with an extensive history of Victor Hugo, his works and the Les Mis musical.

The costuming of the production not only helped place the show in the property historical period, it also helped tell the story.  The ensemble in any given seen was dressed in dirty beige while the main characters wore colored garments.  The wigs were occasionally a little distracting – Munchkinhead and I were both surprised to see Fantine pictured as blonde in her headshot because she looked so awkward in that blonde wig – but it’s theater, everything’s supposed to be a bit over-the-top.

The set design was elaborately simple.  Props felt minimal and many, many pieces were reused in many, many ways.  The wagon cart that falls on the man Val Jean rescues was also Fantine’s death bed, part of the courtroom, part of the barricade and a table at the Thénardiers’ inn.  Trap doors in the stage were well utilized, as were rotating set pieces.  This is only one area where Skylight’s production far outshone the traveling Broadway show I’d seen back in ‘02.  The Broadway production tried too hard with it’s sets.  This production was well-balanced.  The sewer scene was very neat, though the running water sounds near the end of a 3-hour production are a little cruel.  And Javert’s suicide scene was exquisitely done.

The show was exceedingly well cast.  When Fantine, played by Susan Spencer, walked onto the stage, she looked like a tiny little thing compared to the other cast members.  I expected a squeaky little voice like Bernadette in Big Bang Theory.  Then she opened her mouth to sing and had the most wonderful, thick voice that filled the auditorium and wrapped the audience in a wool cloak.  I melted into my chair.

My favorite character, Enjrolas – because he his is the only part I can actually sing-a-long with somewhat decently – was played by Tommy Hahn and did not disappoint.  His swagger and bombastic manners were perfect.  Little Cossette, played by Harper Navin for the night we saw, warbled a bit during “Castle on a Cloud,” but it seemed fitting for a scared, cold young girl.  I wondered why Gavroche, Luke Brotherhood, pointed out to the audience so much, but his singing was very good.

Val Jean, Luke Grooms, and Javert, Andrew Varela, played well off each other, almost as good as Chris Barrie and Craig Charles in the 8th season of Red Dwarf.   The costuming and hair did a good job of making it easy for the audience to tell the two similarly built men apart.  Their duet was fantastic, especially since they did my favorite verse combo, unlike the film version.  And of course, the Thénardiers, Eric Mahlum and Rhonda Rae Busch, kept everyone laughing with their silly antics, expressions and physical clowning around.

Munchkinhead and I both absolutely loved the show and were very glad we came.  As splendid as it was, I could only think while watching, “the book is so much better.”


Les Misérables plays at the Skylight Music Theater on Broadway Ave until December 29th. Tickets here
If you’re in Milwaukee, I suggest checking it out. 
If you like the Les Mis musical, I suggest reading the novel.

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