Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 5, 2017

Les Misérables

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through October 8, 2017
by Shera Cohen

Photo by Deen Van Meer
Just when I thought that it might be over-kill for me to see "Les Miz" for the 10th time, I was wrong. While this big and bold, dramatic and dark, one of a kind musical has been produced on Broadway and regionally for decades, last night’s “Les Miz” was new. It was a treat for me that my Plus 1 guest was a newbie to the show.

Not that the 10th time was a charm, and my previous outings were second-rate prelude versions, but “new” is the simplest and best word to describe the Bushnell’s production. The first percussion beats of the orchestra keeping time to the slaves at their ores marks an immediate fresh start for what will be three hours of intensity. Victor Hugo’s story of justice, redemption, and forgiveness gnaws at the core of each main character. It was easy to see that even behind the beard, long hair, and rags was the youngest Jean Valjean that I had seen. Nick Cartell, who lacks the experience of a mature actor took on this herculean role only two months ago. Yet, he has embodied every cell of his character’s voice, demeanor, and gestures.

His match is nemesis Javert, portrayed by Josh Davis. The character is complex. Davis’ power makes his audience slowly learn what makes Javert tick. Certainly, it is no spoiler to mention Javert’s demise. This, too, is new. In a heartbeat one set weaves into another, music intensifies, and lighting techniques become indescribable. The craftspersons on electronics, working in tandem with the musicians, shine a new light throughout the entire production.

When my Plus 1 friend looked through the program book she noted the long list of songs. I agreed, describing the ever-present refrains of “One Day More,” “Master of the House,” and “The People’s Song” which carry the plot points through at an exciting pace.

The balance of ensemble numbers with solos is perfection. Just when you “pick” your favorite singer, comes the next who is equally exquisite. Each lead is given his/her moment to shine: Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” combines beauty with anger, Eponine’s “On My Own” presents a sweet torch song, “Marius’ “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” laments friendship. Javert’s “Stars” and “Soliloquy” give his character a wrenching sadness. Of course, Jean Valjean is given the bulk of the solo work. Without a doubt, Cartell is up to the task from his strong introductory “Soliloquy” to self-questioning “Why Am I” and signature piece, the emotional “Bring Him Home.”

“Les Miz” is superb – its music, story, message, and characters, especially in this production.