REVIEW: Les Misérables: a musical phenomenon
"Les Misérables," the French historical fiction novel by Victor Hugo, was first introduced to the public in 1862. Since then, it has captured the hearts and minds of many and is now established as a classic. The novel was later adapted for film and theatre, and the musical produced by Broadway in Tucson did not disappoint.
Sitting up front near the orchestra at Centennial Hall, it was easy to feel the power in the music. The band was booming and commanding and, as the opening song came on, everyone in the auditorium seemed completely enthralled by the music.
Right off the bat, the story was clearly to be one of great power struggle and the idea of systematic oppression of the less fortunate. The motif of government against the people played a large role in driving many parts of the plot.
Jean Valjean, our protagonist and an ex-convict on parole, was always on the run. He tried, failed and then tried again to become an honest man. He experiences rejection, heartache and isolation through his mistakes and their repercussions.
His crime of stealing a loaf of bread threw him into a pit of despair within the French prison system. After 19 years in captivity, Valjean started fresh and becomes a respectable gentleman. His overall character change showed a glimmer of hope when many other things in his life were going downhill.
Fantine, a young factory worker for Valjean, experienced many hardships as well. She lost her job and daughter, and ends up selling everything she has. Despite all her shortcomings, Valjean stayed there with her to comfort her in her last hours and give Fantine his word that he would raise her daughter for her.
The color scheme within the show was very muted and, honestly, pretty dreary. The dark, earthy tones tied in the plot's themes of sadness. The set design in the musical was a masterpiece. The intense focus on detail made the audience feel as if they are really strolling through the French countryside or slumming it on the grimy streets of Paris. There was lush greenery, hefty building pieces, massive ships and many other interesting set pieces.
Hearing Fantine sing “I Dreamed a Dream” was a dream in itself. Her beautiful voice completely exemplified Fantine’s sorrow in her situation. She had sadness in her eyes and wistful tones in her voice and it was all absolutely angelic. You could see the raw emotion in the tears on her face.
After rescuing Fantine’s daughter Cosette from treacherous innkeepers, Valjean left with her for years in fear of running into the law again. Meanwhile, tensions heated up in Paris with resistance from young bourgeoisie students against the French government.
Action-packed and high-intensity scenes captivated the audience. The talented, dramatic expressions by the actors onstage made for an electric energy.
Entering Act II with an immense amount of anticipation, the audience drew back to see how the revolutionaries are involved with the 1832 Paris Uprising. Tensions grew as the bourgeoisie students attempted to rally the townspeople with guns and spirited attitudes.
The now-grown Cosette fell in love with Marius, one of the bourgeoisie students. As he and many other men geared up to fight at the barricade, he struggled between fighting for his cause and protecting his love.
The powerfully vivid battle scenes were loud. The sounds, lighting and props all made the scenes very visually entertaining.
“Drink with Me to Days Gone By” really brought together the revolutionaries. The characters onstage began embracing each other and comforting one another in their time of need. This really showed them coming together for the common good of the people.
The strong bond between the men and women onstage was very apparent. They were not just putting on a show; they were portraying truth through the people they were playing. The connection these actors had with each other was real and the chemistry was obvious in their performance.
When Valjean sung “Bring Him Home” to Marius, there was so much raw emotion that everyone was captivated by the ballad. Immediately after its conclusion, the audience erupted in applause.
The youngest revolutionary, a little boy, was shot trying to steal ammunition from the rivals. Everyone who was fighting at the barricade was killed besides Marius, although he was severely injured.
Marius felt an immense amount of guilt after he was the only survivor of the massacre at the barricade. He missed his friends and those who died for his cause.
In the end, Cosette and Marius vowed their lives to each other in an elaborate wedding. The merry guests danced around in brightly colored dresses. The huge spread of food and desserts covered tables and the cake itself was a spectacle. The drapery and décor were also refined. The duet between Cosette and Marius was absolutely beautiful.
The ending of the show showed redemption after overcoming many hardships. When Marius found out that Valjean was the man who saved his life that night at the barricade, he was overwhelmed with emotion. He and Cosette are finally able to thank Valjean on Valjean's deathbed.
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