Review: ‘Les Miz’ is back in SF, and diehards will love it

Now playing at San Francisco’s SHN Orpheum Theatre on its latest U.S. tour, “Les Misérables” is in a way the archetypal resistance musical. There are lots of stirring anthems, marching and flag waving, and young idealists fighting and dying for what they believe in. But exactly what it is that they believe in and what they’re fighting for is left fairly vague.

To be fair, Victor Hugo covers a whole lot of ground in his classic 1862 novel, and even a three-hour musical has to basically rush through it. The original French audience of the 1980 musical may have been familiar with the short-lived and quickly quashed June Rebellion of 1832 that plays such a memorable role in the story, but it’s not something that American students really learn about.

None of that has interfered with the indefatigable popularity of the musical by librettist Alain Boublil and composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, the team that went on to make “Miss Saigon” (coming to the Orpheum in October) and a few more obscure musicals such as “Martin Guerre” and “The Pirate Queen.” (The English lyrics are by Herbert Kretzmer, also known for the Peter Sellers/Sophia Loren novelty song “Goodness Gracious Me.”) It’s the longest-running musical on London’s West End, having played there continuously since 1985. SHN has brought touring productions to San Francisco a half-dozen times before, starting with a 1989 run at the Curran that lasted more than a year.

The current tour is based on the 2014 Broadway revival directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, who also helmed the humdrum 25th anniversary production that played the Orpheum in 2012.

Like that earlier iteration, the current one feels a bit rushed in a way that compromises some of the emotional resonance as well as the comprehensibility of some of the lyrics. Especially in the first few scenes, it feels like there should be supertitles because we can’t hear exactly what the people sing.

After the initial frenzy, Nick Cartell mellows into a strong and sweet-voiced Jean Valjean, an ex-con still hounded and hunted for stealing a loaf of bread for a starving child in his youth. His rendition of the high and tender “Bring Him Home” is especially lovely. Josh Davis has a captivating ghoulish intensity as Valjean’s nemesis, the merciless Inspector Javert.

Mary Kate Moore makes a sadly bland Fantine, the destitute and dying young woman who entrusts her daughter to Valjean’s care, making her iconic “I Dreamed a Dream” feel more mechanical than heartbreaking. Jillian Butler is upbeat and sweet-voiced as daughter Cosette, and Joshua Grosso is charmingly befuddled as her doting beau Marius. Paige Smallwood is an amiably sympathetic Éponine, Marius’ unrequited adorer.

J. Anthony Crane is more obnoxious than amusing as thieving innkeeper Thénardier, though Allison Guinn has funny moments as his boorish wife. Matt Shingledecker is styled distractingly like Fabio as rebel leader Enjolras.

Alternating with Sophie Knapp, Elsa Avery Dees sings sweetly as Little Cosette, and Sam Middleton is a spunky young rebel as Gavroche, sharing the role with Parker Dzuba. Andrew Maughan …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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