"Les Miserables" has returned to the New York stage and has some very big shoes to fill: its own.
After having a long and loving run on Broadway with 6680 performances, still running in London surpassing 10,000 performances in 2010 and becoming an Oscar winning movie that has grossed almost $414 million worldwide, it's certainly a show that has its fans of the various incarnations and bringing it home to New York is a risky undertaking.
With "Les Miserables" being one of my favorite shows of all time, and having loved last year's 25th anniversary touring version which brought beautiful new sets and a freshness to the show, I went into the new Broadway production with grand expectations.
Not to knock the production, it just lacked what it once was when it was on the New York stage and paled to the recent tour it went on before coming to Broadway.
Good news is, it's still a decent show. The songs no matter who does them are wonderful, thoughtful and enriching.
Also on the plus side is Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean. He's a shining beacon in the show, tearing down and tearing up the house with his spectacular rendition of "Bring Him Home." His depth of character and richness of voice remain constant, elevating the show to greater heights.
He is well pitted against I am sure a wonderful Will Swenson who has impressed me in everything he's done - from "Hair" to "Priscilla" to "Murder Ballad." The day I saw "Les Miserables," I got his understudy Adam Monley who was not disappointing. He handled the role like a pro and was able to make me forget the awful Russell Crowe from the movie version and won me back with his rendition of "Stars."
Equally memorable are Cliff Saunders and Keala Settle as the Thenardiers. They are a naugtier version of the sorted couple. Comic geniuses, they made us easily like despicable characters. Cassie Levy is also in fine voice as Fantine, even though her final scene may have relied a little too much on "Camille."
Andy Mientus, so wonderful in "Smash," is in strong voice as Marius, successfully adding depth of emotion to "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." But his chemistry with Samatha Hill's Cosette doesn't seem to be there - which partly could be in the hands of Hill who makes more of a characiture than a character.
A true find in the show is Kyle Scatliffe as Enjolras. His commanding stature and rich voice make you want to follow in his command. He is a definite talent whose name I will look for higher on the bill next time. He makes you understand why Jason Forbach was demoted to a smaller role in the Broadway production since he was certainly a highlight as Enjolras in the touring version of the show.
Then we're left with Nikki M. James as Eponine. The performer in this role needs to have one of the strongest voices in the show in order for her "On My Own" to make us share in her emotions.
James is a good singer - but this is not the right part for her style of singing. Her tone seems to fall flat compared to every other Eponine I've seen - and I've seen a lot. Her speaking voice reminded me of Tutti in "The Facts of Life" and when I'd hear her song I wonderful if she was perhaps the fourth member of Destiny's Child. Perhaps she's better suited for musical comedy over this more demanding dramatic role. She certainly has talent but just dreadfully miscast.
On a production level, the return to Broadway is elevated, having been recreated by Matt Kinley who did a wonderful job with the 25th anniversary touring version, adding lighting and photographic effects to add depth to scenes.
At the end of the day, "Les Miserables" is a tough show to improve upon and also a tough one to ruin. It's good - but I wanted more.
Get tickets and information at www.lesmis.com/broadway.