The popular 1987 Broadway musical, Les Misérables, has had long runs in New York and on tour, and thereve been versions for public television and film. Claude-Michel Schönbergs music and Herbert Kretzmers lyrics still have a Pavlovian pull that elicits strong emotional responses, as proved in N.C. Theatres current production.
Victor Hugos novel is epic in scale, which this through-composed musical matches in quasi-operatic fashion with its high-intensity solos, duets and choruses. The complicated story of police inspector Javerts pursuit of former prisoner Jean Valjean, whose life has changed by adopting the young Cosette, is told in scenes that move quickly in time and location. First-timers (are there any left?) would do well to read the programs synopsis to fill in the background.
N.C. Theatres strong cast has three lead performers reprising the roles theyve played on Broadway. Craig Schulmans Valjean has all the required notes and emotional shadings, with enough stamina for the stagings many physical elements. Chuck Wagners imposing stature gives Javert visual menace his rich, well-controlled baritone filling out the characters threatening nature. Raleigh native Lauren Kennedy gives distraught, dying Fantine, Cosettes mother, a moving, ethereal delicacy. Any traces of strain from these veterans are easily forgiven through their consummate professionalism.
Julie Benkos sweet soprano gives Cosette innocent charm, nicely paired with Bruce Landrys beautifully sung Marius, the young student in love with her. Charlie Brady sings powerfully as Enjolras, leader of the student revolution, and English Bernhardt makes a heart-tugging Éponine, hopelessly in love with Marius. Bernhardts On My Own garners the strongest applause of the evening.
Dirk Lumbard and Alison Cimmet have a ball playing the conniving inn-owners, the Thénardiers, the main comic relief in this otherwise serious and often sad tale.
Nine-year-old Riley Campbell (Lauren Kennedys daughter) as Young Cosette and 13-year-old Reed Shannon, as the street urchin Gavroche, easily grab the audiences sympathies.
Director Dave Clemmons gets tight precision from his cast, his many striking stage pictures enhanced by John Bartensteins painterly lighting. Bruce Brockmans picturesque settings add warmth to the stark drama, reflecting this productions lighter, storybook tone.
Thankfully, the amplification is mostly good here, the soloists easily understood. Edward G. Robinsons 16-piece orchestra sounds best in the intimate moments, but takes on a harsher quality in the grander sections.
Les Misérables fans will have little to complain about, though, in this earnest, talent-filled production.