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Friday, July 1, 2016

Review: Les Miserables

One of the shows I wanted most to see this summer was Les Miserables. Why was I so desperate to see it, you might wonder, when I’d seen it five times before between Broadway and the West End? Because it would fulfill a life goal of mine: to see John Owen Jones as Jean Valjean and hear him sing “Bring Him Home” in person.

And let me tell you, he did not disappoint. Les Mis will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s the show that got me into theater. I’ve spent the past six years listening to the 2010 UK Tour cast recording with John Owen Jones as Jean Valjean, so when I learned he was coming to Broadway, I was excited out of my mind.

Me and John Owen Jones
His Valjean is every bit as good as I expected: he’s vocally flawless, his acting is compelling and interesting, and at times he reminded me a bit of Colm Wilkinson. One thing that struck me about his Valjean is how tired he was, from prison, from life on the run, from trying to figure out how to raise a teenager. One little thing that stood out to me astoundingly was in the finale, he hesitated and looked back at Cosette and Marius before going (to heaven, presumably) with Fantine and Eponine. That little gesture spoke volumes to me about how well John understands the fatherly part of Valjean’s character. His “Bring Him Home” was by far the best I’ve heard and I have been blessed to see many amazing Valjeans, from Alfie Boe to Peter Lockyear to Ramin Karimloo.

If anyone ever has anything bad to say about Chris McCarrell’s Marius, they can fight me. Chris is the only Marius I’ve ever seen who provided competition to London’s Rob Houchen (who I saw three times). Marius is one of my favorite characters in the show and Chris plays him perfectly, from his tousled hair to his slightly goofy manner. His “Empty Chairs” was as chilling as his “A Heart Full of Love” was adorable (and I’ll never be over how much I love the use of the candles during “Empty Chairs”). If Pride and Prejudice ever comes to Broadway, sign Chris up to play Mr. Bingley.

I’m not typically overly invested in Fantine’s story line, but Alison Luff certainly caught my attention. I was struck by how young her Fantine seemed, which made her plot seem even more tragic. Her delivery of “I Dreamed a Dream” was beautiful and I appreciated how she seemed to keep a sense of self even as she descended into poverty. The seeming age difference between her Fantine and John Owen Jones’s Valjean made it seem that the relationship between the two was almost father and daughter-esque, which was an angle I’d never seen before.

With Joe Spieldenner, an amazing Grantaire
And with his husband, Jason Forbach, the best of Feuillys!
Alex Finke and Brennyn Lark were one of the best Cosette and Eponine pairs I’ve ever seen. Alex’s Cosette was absolutely lovely; I appreciated that she was a bit awkward in her interactions with Marius. The only time my roommate Kendal cried during the whole show (and it was her first time seeing it) was during “A Little Fall of Rain.” Brennyn’s “On My Own” was wonderful and her acting throughout was superb.

Hayden Tee’s Javert, Mark Uhre’s Enjolras, and Rachel Izen and David Rossmer’s Thenardiers were solid, if not as memorable as some of the other performances. I’ve been blessed to see some incredible Javerts (Hadley Fraser, Tam Mutu, and David Thaxton), so while Hayden’s Javert didn’t particularly impress me, he also didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the piece and I felt that he had a good if unoriginal grasp on the character. Mark perfectly hit all of Enjolras’s notes, if he was a little more level-headed than most Enjolras’s I’ve seen. (I also must say that I loved that he has a blonde ponytail.) Rachel and David’s Thenardiers were hilarious, while never committing the ultimate Les Mis sin of losing the fact that the Thenardiers are the villains of the show.


My roommates, Kimmy and Kendal, and I went and got our tickets for the show the morning of as rush tickets for Les Mis are only $37. We were given seats in the boxes in house right. Sitting in a box was such a unique experience; I felt a bit like Raoul in Phantom of the Opera. While our view was sometimes blocked, we also were amazed that the actors sometimes used the window right next to us. We definitely felt a part of the action!

Overall, I was much more impressed with the revival production than the first time I saw it. While I still prefer the West End production (I’m partial to a good turntable), I will be very sad to see Les Mis leave Broadway on September 4th and am hoping to go back with my family in August. I strongly urge anyone who has to chance to see it, purely for the experience of witnessing John Owen Jones’s Valjean, if nothing else.


Want to hear more of my thoughts on Les Mis or see me in line for rush tickets? Check out my vlog from that day. 

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