Aurora Theatre has opened the theater’s 2013-2014 season with a hard-to-top production that is breaking box office records. Under the skillful direction of Justin Anderson, Les Misérables sets the bar high for future productions with its stellar performances and production quality.
After years of hard labor for a small crime, Jean Valjean (Bryant Smith) becomes disenchanted with the harsh treatment he has received after being paroled. When a Bishop shows mercy on him, he begins to become an honest man under a new name. All seems well until he learns that another man has been wrongly accused of his parole violation, and he turns himself in. But, his vow to see that a dying woman’s wish is fulfilled keeps him on the run and harboring the guilt and shame of his past.
Smith amazes as Jean Valjean. He plays the prideful, yet humbled, man searching for redemption brilliantly, and he balances the various emotions and motivations of the character well. His voice couldn’t be a better fit. Smith delivers the beautiful “Bring Him Home” flawlessly and makes the moment quite moving.
Valjean is pursued by Javert , who is played by Kevin Harry. The mostly stoic character, bound by his duty for order and justice, attempts to capture Valjean throughout the story. When he is dueling with Valjean, Harry gives a compelling performance, but at times he is too passionless, especially in “Javert’s Soliloquy.”
While the role of Fantine (Natasha Drena) is small, her story ties the events of the musical together. Left by her lover, she is forced to hide her daughter, who is being raised by an inn keeper and his wife, and work to support them both. Her life and spirit have been crushed by her circumstances. Drena’s Fantine is moving in ” I Dreamed a Dream.”
Both Michael Stiggers as Marius and Kelly Chapin Schmidt as Cosette, are wonderful in their roles, and a “Heart Full of Love” is sung beautifully by them. In addition, Anthony P. Rodriguez and Marcie Millard are perfectly cast in the roles of Monsieur and Madame Thenardier. The talented cast also includes charming and delightful performances by a few young actors and actresses, including Hoke Faser (Gavroche), Mabel Tyler (Young Cosette) and Alma Kent (Young Éponine), who performed in the reviewed performance.
The theater has taken the massive staging of the original and adapted it for a smaller venue while keeping the epic feel. Phil Male’s incredible set design works well for the staging of the musical. However, the production feels too large for the intimate theater space, leaving the possibility that audience members in the front rows could have trouble taking it all in. Nonetheless, the production is stunning and will definitely be a crowd-pleaser for all in attendance. Fans of the musical will not be disappointed.
Les Misérables runs through September 8, 2013 at Aurora Theatre. For tickets and more information, please click here or visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is three hours with an intermission.
– Kenny Norton