Chers lecteurs, let me save you from a miserables mistake by making a suggestion: If you’re bent on seeing the 25th anniversary revival of Les Miserables, playing at the Benedum through January 27, may I suggest simply second acting the show. This way, you get to see the highlight: The brilliant Briana Carlson-Goodman performing the heart-wrenching “On My Own.” You can then take a program, leave and no one will be the wiser.
If you decide to buy a ticket and stay for the entire three hours, you’re on your own.
Les Miserables has made more comebacks then Liza and Cher and Babs put together. And it’s showing. This production, redirected by Laurence Connor and James Powell, has been surgically streamlined more than Joan Rivers’ face . . . it’s a dark, brooding and not a pretty picture. (There's even an Asian slant, but we're not going there.)
And to think it started with a loaf of bread.
Jean Valjean is sentenced to prison for 19 years for stealing the food so he could feed his sister's children. He becomes a thief, then through the kindness of a bishop from whom he was stealing, reinvents himself as a successful businessman and mayor.
For every step Valjean takes, one is taken by Javert, the police inspector who haunts his life, bent on hunting him done.
This cautionary tale of theocracy is populated with whores, illegitimate children, oppressive masses, overweight innkeepers, drunks, pimps and masses of shady characters and dirty denizens who take to the sewers of Paris faster than any phantom could.
Indeed, post-revolutionary was more gray Paree.
The thrill, the rush, the power of robust richness, the fire (literally) of the original production is missing here. Lauren Wiley, the actress playing Cosette, gives a characterization as bleak and boring as a stale croissant. Some will argue that bearish Andrew Varela’s hold on “Stars” is mightier than all else; good man but not Goodman. Peter Lockyer does a fine job, vocally and dramatically, as Valjean, with the occasional overwrought slap to the head underscoring the power and importance of individual responsibility. He’s too young for the role; he does not age well as the years move on.
It’s the actual production values that are most disturbing. Touring productions of Les Mis have a fraction of the scenery seen in the Broadway original, yet this claustrophobic set had to be crammed together by someone without depth perception. There’s no stage turntable, so needed to allow for scene changes. I will give the duo of directors credit for turning Javert’s suicide into a moment of theatrical brilliance: As he “jumps” into the Siene, Javert is suspended in mid-air, sort of a drowning Esther Williams in heavy drag.
The rear projections in act one (billowing smokestack, dilapidated row houses) might have been photographed in Braddock; those in act two that might have been possible an homage to abstractism were reminders of blood clots and rust stains. They say the set is “dazzlingly reimagined and inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo” (nice, by the way, to see him get part-time on-screen credit). I thought it was Helen Keller.
Really ugly. Really sad. Really miserable.
For ticket information, call (412) -456-4800 or visit trustarts.culturaldistrict.org/production/32852#tab=buy_tickets.