|Is Los Angeles a theatre town? Culture Monster recently sponsored an event posing this very question as the topic de jour. If the first preview, as well as the subsequent performances, as I understand, of Les Misérables at the Ahmanson Theatre is any indication (and I don’t REALLY think it is… but a girl can dream), the answer is yes.
Attending the 25th Anniversary production of Les Misérables felt like a celebration. This Tuesday evening was sold out, attended by people of all ages and walks of life, all gussied up to collectively witness and share an event. There was energy in the air. The audience was eager to applaud, ready to be entertained and engaged.
Good story + good music = good musical. The equation works every single time. Les Misérables is a good musical… one of the greats, actually. Cameron Mackintosh’s new “25th Anniversary” production didn’t do anything to screw that up. That’s the good news. Victor Hugo’s epic story of survival of the human spirit is still inspiring. The characters are ones we can still relate to and care about. The marvelous music continues to provoke laugher, thought, and more than likely, tears. You are guaranteed to be singing a handful of its songs for many days after. This show is timeless.
If you have never seen this show or haven’t seen it for a while, you owe yourself a ticket. If you know someone from a newer generation, who hasn’t had the pleasure… you owe him/her a ticket, too.
The specifics of this particular show vs. the one you’ve (probably) seen before…
The turntable is gone. The turntable was a pretty iconic thing… and it isn’t a part of this production. I don’t care, and I didn’t miss it. Although it should be said that I was indeed “wowed” by it at the time, the theatre spectacle isn’t the reason I see theatre and was fine with a similarly simple set to the original minus the turntable. There are some pretty cool projections used as backgrounds. Inspired by Victor Hugo’s art… that just adds to the cool factor. Neat touch. The sewer scene was particularly amazing with the added projections.
I’m assuming you are familiar with the story. Jean Valjean (J. Mark McVey), convicted of stealing a loaf of bread, served 19 (!) years on the chain-gang for his petty crime. Struggled after his release to be accepted in society with the stigma of being a criminal, commits to changing his way after being shown incredible kindness by a bishop… Changes his identity, becomes a successful businessman and mayor, raises a child as his own after the death of a former employee who turned to prostitution to care for her child, but continues to be pursued by Javert (Andrew Varela) for failing to divulge his former convict status… blah, blah, blah. You know this, right? I mean no disrespect by the “blah, blah, blah”, as stated before the story is magnificent. It’s just assumed that you know it. I believe the directors, Laurence Connor and James Powell, do too… as there are a few leaps (quite literally in time) that are made that may leave you puzzled if you don’t. Read the one page cheat sheet in the program prior to the start of the show and the problem is solved. It’s easy to lose some of the words (those darn Ahmanson acoustics!) in the cheap (and I use that term loosely) balcony seats, so reading up even as a refresher may not be a bad idea for almost all.
Honestly, when comparing the old vs. the new, I didn’t experience a radically different show. Maybe I’ve seen too many “staged readings” on public television. Perhaps I put in the soundtrack too many times on various road trips, but it sure seemed like the 25th Anniversary show was essentially the same good story + good music… which means good show. The performers are beautiful singers and mostly competent in their acting, which is standard. It’s still 3 hours long… it will still draw you in. It’s a stroll down memory lane, likely conjuring up memories the first time you saw “Les Mis” while renewing your devotion with showstoppers like “Bring Him Home” and “On My Own”. Not wildly different, and that’s ok. Perhaps it’s even for the best.
Seen it? Go again. Haven’t seen it? Go. Hate musicals? You won’t hate this one. Which means save your pennies and get there. You owe yourself a ticket.
Running through July 31
Tues-Friday 8:00. Saturday 2:00 & 8:00. Sunday 1:00 & 6:30
(There are come exceptions! Check the schedule)
Ahmanson Theatre/Centre Theatre Group