Review by Danny Gaisin
To study Hugo’s colossal ‘Les Misérables’ is a titanic undertaking. First tried the original French, but switched to a more portable English translation. Finally, settled on the Digest version but even the Coles Notes™ text was so dramatic, so well written and so dynamic that once started- couldn’t be laid aside. Director Alexander Galant’s rendering of LES MIZ is just as captivating and the audience will be completely ensnared in the plot; its progress, and certainly its message.
A mere 3 decades after the French Revolution [1789-99] the social, economic, and living conditions for most of the country’s citizenry was so disgraceful that another insurgency took place. It was short-lived and ineffectual, but was fertile compositional soil. Hugo’s roman à clef retells the historical tale but as seen through the eyes of his major protagonists and those of the story’s subplots. Like Dufresne in “Shawshank”; the Bible’s ‘Prodigal Son’ or the stories of Baldwin & O’Connor – love and redemption are the main themes. Escaped thief Jean Valjean redresses himself as a constructive and affirmative member of society but is continually hounded by a dedicated Gendarme ‘Javert’; the original ‘Gerard’ who pursues Kimball in the iconic ‘Fugitive’. The subplots deal with people directly affected by Valjean and utilize their interaction to allegorically express the author’s philosophy of life and humanity.
Galant has assembled a full complement of talented actor/singers whose abilities in both genres make this a superb rendering of a difficult and challenging undertaking. This is tragic opera at its finest. There is death; disillusion; thievery, even a Cinderella motif; but mostly there is love displayed in many facets. The direction focuses on the positive, yet never forsakes the grit or ugliness of conflict and divergence. He brings out not only the ‘mensch-like’ character of Valjean but imbues his antagonist with a most human and believable credo, albeit arrogant sense of right and justice.
There are no weak interpretations; quite the opposite. Even the support roles all contribute full measure to their personas. The pivotal character is portrayed by J.P. Gedeon and he IS Valjean. He depicts every nuance of metamorphosis and heroism in both thespian and harmonic renderings. I (and undoubtedly future audiences) will find themselves clasping hands when he sings his fervent ‘Bring Him Home’ prayer. One can’t help but have ambiguous feelings about his enemy. Eric Charters brings such sincerity and credence to the arrogant Javert that his famous ‘A man like you can never change’ mantra rings true, genuine, and valid.
The doomed young Fantine is exquisitely sung by Courtney Gedeon. Her demeanor and lilting soprano bring a naif-like imagery to the role. Her daughter (young version) is played by an adorable nine-year old Cynthia Galant who already has an innate sense of timing and expression. The adult edition is vocalized by Nicole Strawbridge whose duets with her suitor Marius (Trevor Coll) are emotional high points. The vital support role of ‘Éponine’ is ardently presented by Alex Leahy who exhibits profuse depth of personality and an obvious rapport with, and for, Coll’s persona. The rebellious leader is a compelling Neil Salinas whose ‘Enjoiras’ is both charismatic and vibrant. He underscores his interpretation with strident posture and stance. I’d follow his lead anywhere.
The deceitful duo of Mark Chambers& Sonya Grundy have a show-stopping moment in the ‘Master of the House’ chorus number. This is a certain sing-along moment but please – sotto voce’ on behalf of one’s seatmates! Other such moments: – “The People’s Song” near the end of Act I; Éponine’s “On my Own”; and Javert’s touching “Stars”.
The highly professional directorial embellishments are certainly Peter Thorman’s sets and definitely the myriad descriptive costumes designed by Carmen Gillespie. The sixteen-piece orchestra under Jimmy Tao performs faultlessly and never overpowers the arias being presented on stage.
The denouement is not maudlin but rather an emotional cathartic similar to that of grand tragic opera, and will touch everyone. Schönberg &Kretzmer’s “LES MIZ” holds the record for longest running musical and this Marquee/Galant rendition only enhances its reputation. The play is at the Newmarket Theatre, 505 Pickering from today until Apr 19th. 905-713-1040.
To the cast & crew . . . Be sure & check out O.A.R.’s “TOP TEN list” in December !!!!