Les Miserables, Signature Theatre

Once upon a not-so-very-distant time, I was a 14 year old girl, and like many a 14 year old girl, I could probably have sung you the entire score of Les Misérables, complete with funny voices to indicate which character I was being at the time. Because I was that special brand of 14 year old girl who was also a musical theatre geek, I even had a favorite cast to imitate (for the record, it was- and remains- the 10th Anniversary cast, and Philip Quast can hunt me across France any day). Inevitably, 14 year old girls grow up and I stopped singing "On My Own" in the shower every other morning. I grew bored of a score that seemed to have about four melodies that it kept using over and over, I realised Marius was a chump and Cosette was even more boring (the greater sin), and Valjean's incessant self-narration grew tiresome. I discovered Sondheim and I moved on, relegating my Les Mis cast recordings to the shelf, only to be revisited on rare, nostalgia-fueled nights.

But then Signature announced it was doing Les Mis and HEAVEN HELP ME if I not only didn't rush to buy a ticket, but I also signed myself up for the backstage tour (Beyond the Barricade- OMG BE STILL MY GEEKY HEART) and docilely let myself be led past the dressing rooms and costume shop and tread upon the very stage this afternoon with secret glee in my heart. Because the secret of Les Mis is that NO ONE is ever done with this show. I still knew every lyric and every harmony, and by god, the Max theatre was not lacking for bums on seats on a cold Sunday night in January.

Eric Schaeffer's direction (supplemented by Karma Camp's staging of the musical numbers) was taut and exciting to watch, aided by the remarkable set design of Walt Spangler. While the color palate of black on black on black (with occasional splashes of red) was a trifle wearisome after a few hours, the set was a giant barricade-like playground of a thrust and used to excellent effect throughout the night. Mark Lanks's lighting design also deserves a mention if only for the technical feat of finding a way to light the damn show at ALL, much less to do so as well as he accomplishes over the evening (the lighting of the narrow walkways on actors' entrances and exits in particular never stopped being interesting to see).

The score is brilliantly sung overall- special kudos should go to Russel Sunday, understudy for Greg Stone who was out with vocal difficulties today, who did admirable work as Valjean. The real star for my part was Tom Zemon's Javert, however; the part was gorgeously sung and richly performed, and I've never seen a more wrenching 'Soliloquy' than the one performed tonight. Zemon was breathtaking and Schaeffer's staging was a shocking and yet inevitable twist. Well done, lads.

The company is as grungy as you could wish for (costume design by Kathleen Geldard, wig and hair by Samantha Hunter, and makeup designed by Anamarie Salamat) and the ensemble sings gloriously. Beware- their antics during 'Master of the House' were so interesting (and highlighted by the thrust staging) that I hardly paid attention to Christopher Bloch's spendidly slimy Thénardier.

What more can be said? If you're all done with Les Mis, then don't go, but there are very few of us who can honestly put themselves in that category. I wondered as I sat in the theatre tonight, who on earth could ever fall in love with this show? It's long, it's got a million characters, it flies from plot point to plot point too quickly for much of Act I to sink in, and many of us know the big numbers too well to ever want to hear them again. But heaven help me if I didn't rise to my feet by the end of the curtain call. You cannot escape the pull of this show today if ever you loved it in the past. Signature has worked its magic again and staged a brilliant production of what has become a classic show. If ever Les Misérables was going to win new converts, it would be through a vibrant and thrillingly sung production like this one. The story is as epic as ever, but the staging is intimate and raw. Take your 14 year old self on a date. Neither of you will be disappointed.


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