By Jess Winans
Broadway nonpareil takes over Downtown
Tony Award-winning Broadway production “Les Misérables” graced Downtown with its 2018 tour at the San Diego Civic Theater. Opening May 29 with a stellar performance, the cast and crew mesmerized the audience with staging and production, brought many to tears with emotional musical performances and had the full house in roaring ovations, beginning from the first act. And the acclaims never stopped.
The story begins with a supposed villainous hero, Jean Valjean (Steve Czarnecki in the May 29 production). Valjean (prisoner 24601) spent 19 years a slave to pay for his crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed the starving son of his sister in the poverty-stricken streets of 19th century France.
To better understand the plot of the Broadway sensation, a little history is needed.
The play is set in 1832 under the rule of King Louis-Phillippe, following the closure of the French Revolution, there was a widening of the preexisting and notorious income gap we often think of when we think of pre-revolutionary France. Adapted from the novel “Les Misérables” by French novelist Victory Hugo, the musical adaptation has received as much acclaim as his novel, considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century.
With the widening of the pre-existing wage gap, combined with a cholera epidemic, provided cause for revolt against the French monarchy. But it was the death of beloved General Jean Maximilien Lamarque, on June 5, that was a catalyst to the June Rebellion or Paris Uprising of 1832. It is here where the play is centered.
Valjean escapes his chains and the control of officer and protagonist Javert (Josh Davis) and runs to a different town where he is unable to find work due to his criminal history and condemned by the townsfolk. Bent on hands and knees, surrounded by angry peers, Valjean is saved by the Bishop of Digne (Andrew Maughan) who takes him into his home and gives him food and drink. In return, Valjean steals silver from the bishop but when he is caught doing so, the bishop saves his life from prison again, giving him the silver, and then gives him more. He tells him to go, keep the silver, and be an honest man who does good with such fortune. For now, he was indebted to God.
Valjean moves to a poor town where he creates and manages a factory and eventually becomes mayor. One day a conflict erupts between the workers when it is revealed that one of the factory girls Fantine (Mary Kate Moore) has a secret child who lives in a distant town with innkeepers whom she sent a monthly payment to take care of. The child goes by the name of Cosette (Elsa Avery Dees/ Sophie Knapp). Being kicked out of the factory, Fantine desperately turns to a life of prostitution to be able to support her daughter. There, after turning down and getting into a physical altercation with a wealthy client, she is almost arrested but saved by Valjean. It is determined that she is ill but on her deathbed, she finds comfort in Valjean who swears to find and take care of Cosette.
Young Cosette is found wandering the woods alone at night on errand for her exploitative caretakers, the Thénardiers (Anthony Crane and Allison Guinn) who also fill the roles of antogonists and sources of comedic relief. Valjean finds Cosette and tells her he will take care of her forever, buying her from the greedy innkeepers.
The two move from town to town running from Javert, with Valjean always on the run, clinging tightly to protect Cosette from his past.
Enter Marius, an educated student of the revolution and Éponine (Emily Bautista), the grown daughter of the innkeepers. A love triangle forms when it is revealed in a musical monologue that Éponine secretly loves Marius, but grown Cosette (Jillian Butler) catches his eye in a public park. Marius vows to find Cosette and eventually does so with the help, and heartbreak, of Éponine.
Éponine’s solemn performance “On my Own,” where she professes her unreturned love for Marius was dynamic, sad and endearing all at once.
In battle, Valjean saves Marius, knowing of his love for Cosette and Cosette’s love for him, and brings him to his daughter. The two marry and have a lavish wedding, maybe to show the contrast between classes in revolutionary France. Czarnecki’s rendition of “Bring Him Home” was moving beyond words, hitting every emotion intended in the lyrics, creating an atmosphere of grief and desperation for the love of his daughter and her future.
Sniffles filled the civic center as the curtains drew to a close to a rousing standing ovation. “Les Misérables” gave everyone everything a living musical could offer. It’s laughter over the innkeepers, tears for Eponine’s unrequited love, heartbreak for Valjean’s intimacy, and fear from Javert’s search. The performance, with group vocals sometimes difficult to understand due to muffled sound, was greatly enhanced with vivid moving picture, smoke machines, mood lighting and brilliant orchestral compositions.
You don’t want to miss this limited time to see Broadway San Diego’s production of “Les Misérables.” For those that know this story, this cast brings new life into an already living, breathing musical paragon.
Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, original orchestrations by John Cameron, new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker, musical staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt, costume design by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland and set and image design by Matt Kinley inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, all get props for incredible performances that show that the arts are alive and thriving, and still desperately needed.
“Les Misérables,” as part of a national tour, will be playing at the San Diego Civic Theater at 1100 Third Ave. until June 3. For more information about the production or Broadway San Diego, visit bit.ly/2k4oDfp.
— Jess Winans is the editorial assistant of San Diego Community News Network, the parent company of San Diego Downtown News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org