Pictured: Nick Cartell. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
By Abigail Trabue
Based on the epic novel by Victor Hugo, LES MISÉRABLES is love, unyielding faith, hardship, redemption, forgiveness, despair, hope, and mercy. In short, it is a story of humanity in all its flawed glory. When Jean Valjean asks “Who am I,” we are challenged to ask ourselves if past choices define a person’s future? As Javert looks to the stars for guidance, so sure in his belief that the rules set forth by God and man are unbending, we are challenged to ask ourselves if we too believe the path of the righteous is a straight line. As Enjrolas stands before the young revolutionaries and proclaims “it is time for us all to decide who we are” we are challenged to ask ourselves what’s the price we would pay for equality?
In the hands of the national tour cast, LES MIZ is perfection. Nick Cartell delivers a Jean Valjean that burns with a fiery rage in a prologue filled with the anger of injustice, only to watch as he quenches himself in salvation during a heart-pounding “Soliloquy.” How Cartell is able to sustain the emotional journey needed with never a faltering step is a true testament to the artistry required to carry the journey of Valjean. As he sings over the sleeping body of Marius and asks God to “Bring Him Home” Cartell transports us into a place void of time, filled with the selfless love of a parent calling on their faith when all else seems lost. His voice is glorious and void of limitations.
In Javert, Josh Davis is strict order and blinded law, while human and deeply flawed. As he looks upon the body of the fallen Gavroche the pain and deeply felt regret over the loss of this young boy’s life is etched clearly upon his face. And as Javert’s journey progresses Davis only grows vocally stronger. From his mind-blowing rendition of “Stars” to his last moments on earth, Davis never stops. He never ceases. He attacks Javert with every ounce of himself and we, the lucky audience members, are left to bask in his glory.
And glory is what you get from every single member of this cast, but there are a few individuals who must be mentioned – Melissa Mitchell is devastating as Fantine, Phoenix Best (Éponine) blows the roof off the house in “On My Own,” and Joshua Grosso’s “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was so haunting and so damn moving it made my scalp prickle.
Musically there is no denying LES MIZ is the crème de la crème of musical theater, but the story is equally as powerful. In a time when the voices of so many are being smothered by an administration that seems to care so little for its people, its hard not to be stirred by the rallying cry of “The People’s Song.” My heart pounds as Enjorlas (Matt Shingledecker) proclaims “Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men? It is a music of a people who will not be slaves again! When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drum, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.” This may be 19th-century French revolution he’s alluding too, but here in 21st century America, when we struggle for affordable healthcare, to make a decent wage to put food on the table, or pay our bills, when we wonder daily just what will be the legacy we leave our children, as our faith and our politics collide, it’s hard not to draw parallels as the music and story swirl around you.
With music by Claude Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, and original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, LES MISÉRABLES is a masterpiece. A thru-sung, beautifully constructed, ensemble masterpiece given new life thanks in part to recent reorchestrations, new staging and reimagined scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo himself. It is a visual triumph. Set and imagery designer Matt Kinley, along with projections by Fifty-Nine Productions and lighting design from Paule Constable have taken the world of LES MIZ and gloriously expanded it without overpowering the story or overindulging in spectacle.
From the first downbeat to the final crescendo, LES MISÉRABLES is a triumph and the national tour now on stage at The Music Hall will remind you why “to love another person is to see the face of God.”
LES MISÉRABLES runs through December 10th. For more information visit theaterleague.com/kansascity.