"While I’ve witnessed some great shows on the Schuster Center stage, none as exceptionally superb as this one." - Mike Woody
Though once blind to the greatness of ‘Les Miserables’ now I see why it’s held in such high regard. It’s as if I had a version of Lasik eye surgery with the sole purpose to improve my theatrical vision. People would say, ‘Les Miserables’ is their favorite and I’d ask, ‘Ummm, have you seen ‘Seussical?’ It rhymes.’ My apologies to those whose sanity I questioned, as now it’s been made clear that ‘Les Miz’ is in a league of its own. From the cast to the orchestra, scenery to the staging, and everything in between it’s the most perfect production I’ve ever seen. While I’ve witnessed some great shows on the Schuster Center stage, none as exceptionally superb as this one.
My only suggestion is that ‘Les Miz’ should come with a disclaimer to be sure and familiarize yourself with the plot prior to attending. It makes a world of difference. ‘Les Miz’ is not a show that you can make any sense of without researching it first. For most shows the synopsis that’s given in the program is hardly a paragraph long. For ‘Les Miz’ it’s a full page, with no pictures. The difference of being informed and not is like night and day. I went in blindly once to see ‘Les Miz’ and it was my worse theatrical experience. Things happen very fast, and at the center of it all is a loaf of bread that was stolen. Hopefully it was marble rye or some other fancy bread. Perhaps ‘Les Miz’ was the inspiration of the classic ‘Seinfield’ episode.
A leading element of the excellence that is ‘Les Miz’ is the cast, which is mightily strong from top to bottom. Only there is no real bottom. Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean shows more emotional depth and vocal prowess, in the prologue alone, than some roles have in a whole show. Cartell captures the beleaguered Valjean brilliantly and is a true joy to watch. His splendid voice is most touchingly displayed in ‘Bring Him Home.’ Valjean is often referred to as his prisoner number ‘24601’, but Cartell should be identified as the number 10, as his performance is a perfect 10.
Though at times Javert allows Valjean to slip through his fingers, Josh Davis (his portrayer) never lets the audience free of his charisma. Among the vocal highlights is Davis’ rendition of ‘Stars.’ The shivers it sent through my spine is just one example of the awe inspiring moments throughout the show. Furthermore, Javert’s final exit is breathtaking, both from its emotional wallop and its scenic elements.
Some needed shots or perhaps tall glasses of comedic relief is provided by Thenardier (Matt Hill) and his wife (Allison Guinn). Not only do they provide laughs, but also despicable villainous behavior, often both at the same time. ‘Master of the House’ is a fitting title for their introductory musical number as the master the sleaziness needed for the role. I kept expecting Hill to proclaim himself as the Duke of Weselton (Weasel-Town), with a chilly grin or break out in flames like Lumiere. His mannerisms brought to mind other characters, but Hill is one of a kind. Equally radiant is Guinn as his counterpart, whose sharp tongue takes a stab at Thenardier’s manhood, while appropriately enough…slicing bread.
One of central plots in ‘Les Miz’ is the love triangle between Marius (Joshua Grosso), Eponine (Paige Smallwood) and Cosette (Jillian Butler). All excel at expressing the range of emotions involved from being love-struck to heartbroken by being overlooked.
The vocal talents of the cast, plus the terrific orchestra is another reason why ‘Les Miz’ is so superior. I actually prefer musicals that contains more spoken dialogue than music, and ‘Les Miz’ is basically all music, but it’s so high quality that I didn’t mind. In three hours of straight singing, not a single note was out of tune. The musical standouts include; ‘At The End of the Day,’ by the female ensemble, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ by Fantine (Mary Kate Moore), and ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ by Marius. Also ‘The People’s Song’ is very rousing and everything about ‘One Day More’ to end the first act is the definition of musical theatre at its best.
The staging of ‘One Day More’ is part of what makes it great, and that’s just one example of how well the entire show is executed. The scenes transition seamlessly, and its huge set pieces being moved, not just a table and some chairs. Every inch of the stage is used to its full potential. Just the placement of the actors to transition the scenes, things that I often overlook, is must-see stuff. For example, ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ is sung beautifully by Marius (Grosso), but its staging adds an extra layer of emotion.
I was not expecting to like ‘Les Miserables’ at all. I’d dreaded having to endure it since it was announced last year, but it converted me into a fan. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching theatre at its absolute best. My mind couldn’t afford to wander much as the show required my total focus, but a comparison to food did come to mind. About steaks rather than bread though. I’ve never had a steak from Fleming’s and probably never will, but I’ve enjoyed a lot from Texas Roadhouse. In terms of musicals, I’ve seen a lot that were Texas Roadhouse level and with ‘Les Miserables’ I got to experience a taste of Fleming’s. At the Schuster Center, a grade A slice of ‘Les Miserables’ will be served through April 7.
Mike Woody is a life long resident of Dayton, and has a passion for writing, which is good because he doesn't excel at much of anything else, except eating.