There are usually two reactions to an announcement that LES MISÉRABLES is back in San Diego playing through June 3rd. Either you are someone who builds a barricade so you can sing the entire score at the top of your lungs because you want to live your best life, or you are the person telling them that due to noise violations and building codes the singing must stop and the barricade must come down immediately. You’re either Valjean or Javert is what I’m saying.
If you fall into the rarer third category of not knowing about the musical adaption of Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, then here is a quick synopsis. Jean Valjean (Steve Czarnecki) has been in jail for 19 years for stealing some bread for his starving nephew. Under the strict and watchful eye of Javert (Josh Davis) he is released on parole but finds the outside world is unwilling to give him a break. When the Bishop of Digne (Andrew Maughan) shows him kindness with food and a place to sleep Valjean repays him by stealing his silver chalices. Caught by the townspeople who don’t believe his tale that the Bishop gave him the silver, Valjean is rescued by the Bishop who confirms the story and directs Valjean to live a good life as he has now bought Valjean’s soul “for God”.
Fast forward some years and now Valjean is a businessman and the mayor of a town and Javert is still hunting this runaway parole breaker. When a dispute in one of Valjean’s factories causes Fantine (Mary Kate Moore) to be thrown out, she finds her livelihood options narrow until she is almost arrested. As she lies dying, the guilt ridden Valjean promises to take care of her daughter Cosette who is a ward of the Thenardiers (Allison Guinn and J. Anthony Crane) thoroughly unrepentant swindlers who have no cares other than lining their pockets.
Decades later Javert (he’s truly relentless) is still hunting Valjean, Cosette (Jillian Butler) and a young revolutionary Marius (Joshua Grosso) fall in love and the groups charismatic idealist Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker) reminds Marius that “No one cares about his lonely soul” and to focus on the battle ahead.
We also meet Éponine (Emily Bautista) the daughter of the Thenardiers who is in love with Marius but because he’s in love with Cosette, she is doomed to forever be alone on the sidelines.
All of these plot lines and characters come together as the rebellion mounts, the chase between Valjean and Javert intensifies, and everything comes to its dramatic conclusion. Based on a novel that is well over 1000 pages; suffice it to say these are just a few of the characters in the story.
The main arc is Javert and Valjean, the tale of two nemeses (that is the plural, I fact checked and everything). Davis as Javert is formidable with powerful vocals and presence on stage. His reveal of nuance as Javert goes from a man sure of his moral righteousness to “Stars” where he grapples with the fact that equating rule following to morality is a flawed equation when Valjean spares his life is tremendous.
Czarnecki as Valjean (Andrew Maughan takes over the role on May 31 – June 2) does the most heavy emotional lifting as he runs the gamut from angry to regretful, loved to resigned, young and brash to older and wiser. His transformation from prisoner on the run to respected businessman to father is as smooth and confident as his vocals, which is very. From soft to soaring he brings a grounded strength of character to Valjean as he sings some of the shows most beloved songs including “Bring Him Home” and “Who Am I?”
Moore has a lovely and clear voice and polished poise to Fantine as she sings ‘I Dreamed A Dream,” making her ultimate decent into questionable activities to save her daughter all the more bittersweet.
As the Thendardiers, Allison Guinn and J. Anthony Crane shine as the comic opportunists. Both fill the stage with their presence and their signing voices, but their line delivery, timing, and tone is also excellent.
Bautista as the lovelorn Éponine brings a sweet earnestness to this character and her infatuation with Marius. Her “On My Own” was an audience favorite.
Butler as Cosette has a lovely voice and a winning chemistry with Grosso’s Marius. Their meeting at her house was endearing and goes a long way to selling the instant love connection between them. Grosso has a great voice and shows his range as Marius goes from dreamer in love to revolutionary, to a devastated man mourning his friends.
Frequently, most or the entire cast is on stage and this ensemble has a rich sound when they all come together.
The set designed by Matt Kinley (inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo) is beautiful, with full neighborhoods and apartment buildings sliding in and out of the wings, and that famous barricade (no longer on a turntable) filling the stage. Lighting be Paule Constable helps define the scenes as Marius and Cosette are bathed in a hopeful warm light, there is a stark black and white moment when the first person falls in battle at the barricade, and Javert roams the stage bringing an icy and pitiless feeling with him as he is clearly kept warm by his principles. Everything is complimented by projections by 59 Productions of streets, sewers, and even Javert’s stars.
Playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre through June 3rd LES MISÉRABLES is an excellent production of an audience favorite. For ticket information and show times go to www.broadwaysd.com