Naveen Kumar | New York | News | Review | Theatre

New Production of ‘Les Misérables’ Opens On Broadway: REVIEW

17. Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean.  Photo by Matthew Murphy-Edit


Yes, she’s back: that tri-colored sketch of a girl staring forlornly off into the distance, heralding the inexorable return of Les Misérables to Broadway. Before you roll your eyes or brace yourself for another dizzying go round of the mega-musical’s signature turntable, the latest incarnation, billed as a “new” production that arrived at the Imperial Theatre March 23, might surprise you.

1. A scene from LES MISERABLES.  Photo by Matthew MurphyFirstly, you can leave the Dramamine at home because the turntable’s been nixed. Co-directors Laurence Connor and James Powell, who toured their production internationally before bringing it to New York, have rejiggered the musical’s priorities to focus on making its epic story clear and to showcase the powerhouse vocal performances of a bracingly talented cast.

First staged on Broadway by Trevor Nunn and John Caird in 1987, the original Les Mis ran until 2003, followed by a premature and short-lived revival of the same production three years later. Under new direction, the sung-through behemoth’s latest return will surely capitalize on the success of last year’s up close and personal big screen adaptation.

18. Will Swenson as Javert and Ramin Karimloo as Valjean .  Photo by Michael Le Poer TrenchLed by a vigorously dashing Ramin Karimloo in the role of fugitive turned everyman hero Jean Valjean, the company delivers many of the musical’s best-loved solo show-stoppers with the power of a winter gust that catches in your throat and blows your hair back. Call it the American Idol effect at its most worthy, with mercilessly few of the showy pop stylings that have been creeping steadily onto Broadway vocals.

The story, based on Victor Hugo’s novel and written for the musical stage by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alan Boublil, remains unaltered—spanning nearly 20 years (and three hours in real time). Valjean, a petty thief with a tarnished heart of gold, is chased around early-nineteenth-century France by maniacally staunch policeman Javert (Will Swenson, in top form), a pursuit that reaches its climax behind the barricades of the June Rebellion of 1832. Everyone is profoundly unhappy and—spoiler alert!—most of them die.

10. Cliff Saunders and Keala Settle as The Thenardiers.  Photo by Michael Le Poer TrenchWhile the sprawling story requires a certain sized canvas, Conner and Powell’s production feels big but uncluttered, and more fluid than needlessly busy. Matt Kinley’s scenic design incorporates dynamic projections of Hugo’s own sketches, many with the same churning emotional vibrancy of paintings by J. M. W. Turner, Hugo’s British contemporary. Vivid, picturesque lighting by designer Paule Constabile adds both physical and psychological depth.

But it’s robust, sensitive vocal performances by the principal company that elevate this revival above the last, and enhance the thrill of seeing the well-worn tale return to the stage from the Cineplex. Mr. Karimloo, making his Broadway debut after lauded work on the West End, delivers a particularly stunning performance of “Bring Him Home” and Mr. Swenson is likewise remarkable in a commanding rendition of “Stars.”  

With few exceptions, the rest of the principal cast is strong as well, including a fine voiced Caissie Levy as Fantine, and Cliff Saunders and Keala Settle as a fantastically lewd and sinister Thenardier duo. The production’s more modest orchestrations (the electric piano’s also been nixed) put focus on the voices, so you can actually hear the people sing—which is fortunately the best part.  

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: matthew murphy, michael le poer trench)

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  1. I'll just say it, at risk of Theatre Sacrilege - Karimloo's "Bring Him Home" is the greatest I've ever witnessed. Tingles upon tingles, up and down my spine.

    Also, I've never wanted to f**k Valjean so bad in my entire theatre-going Les Mis Queen life.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Mar 29, 2014 11:44:14 AM

  2. Ramin is an excellent musical actor and very hot looking guy!

    Posted by: Matt27 | Mar 29, 2014 11:51:17 AM

  3. So the new revival will correct the mistakes of the film, e.g., quality singing.

    Posted by: Qj201 | Mar 29, 2014 12:40:07 PM

  4. He is smoking' hot. Lots of youtube videos to look at. And swoon.

    Posted by: Michel | Mar 29, 2014 3:03:17 PM

  5. I'm curious... the film version thankfully dropped Thenardier's gratuitous "this one's a queer" laugh line.

    Does this production also?

    Posted by: Randy | Mar 29, 2014 3:17:20 PM

  6. You forgot to mention the delicious and out Andy Mientus (Kyle of NBC's Smash) plays Marius.

    Posted by: Jay | Mar 30, 2014 4:57:59 PM

  7. Jean (karimloo) was the best I've heard, and all the singing and dancing was great.

    However, overall, this version did not evoke the emotions that other productions have. It seems that in order to squeeze it into 2:15 they squeezed the emotion out.

    Specifically "Empty Chairs" and "Red and Black" really came up short.

    Still a great show, but this is nowhere near the best show I've seen - another Les Mis (Cedar City Shakespeare Festival 2012) was.

    Posted by: shawn | Apr 3, 2014 2:47:39 PM

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