Even though the national tour of Les Miserables is somewhat scaled down from its original Broadway version, there is a grandeur and refinement to this brand that is distinctive. Interestingly, this production appears darker, grittier, and even at times raunchier, than its preceding tours, which in turn, freshens it up a little.
Inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel, the musical Les Miserables follows one man’s journey from a convict to a savior. Along the way, this Victoriana superhero of sorts meets an array of characters who drive home the life lesson that “to love another person is to see the face of God.” In other words, it is not war, revolution, thievery, or even duty that will deliver us from evil and affect change, but ultimately love that has the power to connect, unify, and heal. Get it? If not, I might suggest reading the synopsis on page 36-D of your program beforehand.
Vocally, the entire cast, with few exceptions, is commendable. Patrick Dunn as Jean Valjean flaunts the athleticism of his voice throughout. His tenderhearted rendition of Bring Him Home is breathy but stunning. Preston Truman Boyd’s solos as Javert are so strong and gravelly that his performance overshadows some lackluster stage effects. Michelle Dowdy’s scene-stealing performance as Madame Thenardier outshines Jimmy Smagula’s (Thenardier). And the student ensemble, led by Enloe alum Matt Shingledecker as Enjolras, attack their ballads with boyish charm and a contemporary sensibility that feels credible, harmonious, and new. And perhaps it is that punctuated lightness, comedy, and naiveté of the cast, juxtaposed with the dim realism and gravitas that looms over Les Miserables, that differentiates this touring production from other incarnations and makes it such a crowd-pleaser (even amidst COVID-19 concerns).
There are a few moments in this production that feel out-of-sync and are a bit too quiet. The lighting, particularly in the first act, is atmospheric and even cinematic albeit too dark to discern facial expressions, emotions, or other notable design elements.
Still, this production of Les Miserables manages to capture the timeliness and timelessness of Hugo’s epic saga and reminds audiences how bedazzling a big Broadway musical can be.
Les Miserables runs through Sunday at the Durham Performing Arts Center. For more information visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/les-miserables-1 or the RDU on Stage Calendar.