Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Les Miserables Is Back on Broadway – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I was pleasantly surprised during my most recent trip to New York City to see that Les Miserables has returned to Broadway for a limited run of six months. I was able to bring with me a friend who had never seen the show, and we both enjoyed it tremendously. The show is currently running at the Broadhurst Theater on 44th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue.

Here is a quick overview of this particular production of the Broadway version of Victor Hugo’s classic tale of the struggle between Law and Grace.

The Good – With one egregious exception, which I will mention below, the cast is terrific. Alexander Gemignani as Jean Valjean, Norm Lewis as Javert, Aaron Lazar (of The Light in the Piazza) as Enjolras (the head of the student revolutionaries), and Gary Beach (of The Producers) as the villainous Thenardier all acquit themselves very well and carry the show admirably, as does Celia Keenan-Bolger as Eponine in her signature song, “On My Own.” The ensemble cast playing the roles of Les Miserables - the students, prisoners, workers, prostitutes, street urchins – are a talented lot.

The Bad – The smaller dimensions of the Broadhurst make this production feel somewhat cramped. The show has been cut down from its traditional 3-½ hours to a truncated 2-¾ hours. I missed some of the little touches – like Gavroche singing snippets of “Little People.” The orchestration seems to have been minimalized as well, and did not seem as sumptuous as I have come to expect from this show.

The Ugly – I shall quote from a review by Martin Denton of NYTheatre.com: “The only way to describe Daphne Rubin-Vega's attempt at Fantine (and the show's signature song "I Dreamed a Dream") is outright failure: her loose, edgy acting style isn't suited to the character at all and her voice is simply not up to the demands of the role.”

I could not agree more! Disaster is too mild a word to describe the desecration that Ms. Rubin-Vega has perpetrated upon this role. I wanted to vault onto the stage and remove her physically from the proceedings. I have nothing against her acting, which was passable. I loved her when I saw her in the role of Mimi in Rent. But her raspy voice and failure to grasp the nuances of phrasing and vocal dynamics makes her performance painful to listen to. I blame the director for allowing such a travesty to occur. “I Dreamed A Dream” should be one of the emotional linchpins of this show. It sets the emotional tone for the rest of the show. Hearing her version of this gorgeous ballad was akin to listening to someone trying to perform Tchaikowsky’ s majestic Violin Concerto on a ukulele. The instrument was the wrong instrument and was not up to the task.

Having gotten that off my chest (Regular readers of The White Rhino Report will remark that I very seldom am negative in my reviews!), let me say that the show is still worth seeing. Just pray that Fantine’s understudy has been called into action on the day that you choose to attend.


No comments: