Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 7, 2012

Les Miserables

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through March 11, 2012
by Shera Cohen

Only six shows left to see the best musical ever set to stage! Sounds like a clearance sale ad? Yet, the urgency is the same, and in the case of the former – being “Les Miserables” – there is truth in advertising.

Victor Hugo’s epic novel turned musical of the French Revolution, plagued hero Jean Valjean, and unrelenting nemesis Javert is flawless. Both are real men with a mutual relentlessness in their personal lives and their relationship. That said, “Les Miz” is so, so much more: love, sacrifice, regrets, despair, camaraderie, and even joy.

This 25th anniversary production is billed as “new.” Oftentimes, “new” is followed by “improved.” Yes, this “Les Miz” at the Bushnell is indeed new in many facets of its production, but certainly equal to all perfect “Les Mizes” that came before. Gone is the circular turning center stage measurably moving scenes from one to another. Gone is the weaving crash of the monstrous barricade assemblage. Here is a dark and scary prison ship opening number. Here is escape through a 3D ever twisting sewer. The new elements do not replace the old, but surprise those who have seen the musical several times and wow first timers. 

Just when you think there can be no better singer/actor than the man who last portrayed Jean Valjean, another surprise. J. Mark McVey’s outstanding performance sets the bar high. Not only does “Bring Him Home” echo throughout the huge Bushnell hall, but the audience cheers do the same. Unique to McVey is his onstage aging process in demeanor, gate, and voice. Andrew Varela portrays the police officer in pursuit of his version of right at any cost. At first, Javert is pure evil, but Varela slowly embodies him with vulnerability. Although not one of the most hummable songs, his “Stars” is a thing of beauty.

Lovers Cosette and Marius (Julie Benko and Max Quinlan) make a fine melodic and sympathetic match. Chasten Harmon’s Eponine creates sadness personified, and Shawna Hamic and Richard Vida (M/M Thenardier) provide needed comic relief.

There are just too many highly skilled professionals onstage and backstage who deserve accolades in mounting superb theatre such as this near-Broadway caliber production. The sets, lights, orchestra – all fabulous!