After a little prodding, my husband and I purchased tickets for the traveling production of Les Miserables when it came to Atlanta, Georgia. It was exciting to see the production again after several years. This is the 25th Anniversary tour with a re-imagined show. The cast was talented, but some of the changes left me wanting.
The cast for this production was excellent. The leads and the ensemble placed all of their considerable talent into the matinee performance I saw. Peter Lockyer was perfectly cast as Jean Valjean. His instant stage presence and powerful vocal abilities instantly captivated the audience. He was complemented perfectly with Andrew Varela performance as Javert. The talented Varela was well matched visually and vocally to the part. Chasten Harmon as Eponine gave a perfect performance that was right on cue.
The changes to the production were not impressive. The majority of the musical was at a noticeably faster pace. Several of the songs were very hard to follow at this pace, even when familiar to the lyrics. The pauses between songs for audience applause were also very short, leading for the start of some scenes to be missed. A number of the songs also felt like they were missing small portions here and there. In total, the musical was shorter than my previous experiences by at least 15-20 minutes.
The production has also added a backdrop that had projections of scenery on it. I found it to be more distracting than adding positively to the production. The number of set pieces used were reduced and the backdrop was heavily relied upon to add the depth. The overall effect was just not the same. It was harder to be pulled into the story with a backdrop that was disproportionate to the performers or showing abstract images.
The change to the production that cut straight to my heart was the removal of a key element to the original, the turntable stage. It’s absence changed several scenes, but most importantly the barricade scene. I always embraced the barricade as another character in the production. It was a large, intricate player that was critical to the emotional value of the scene. The barricade scene was cut much shorter in this production. My estimate would be the scene was only half the length as my previous experiences. The emotional rollercoaster of the final fight by the students was over almost immediately after started. Instead of the dramatic turning of the barricade to reveal the carnage after the battle, a quick flooding of light before the set piece was hastily pulled away. The individuals beside me asked each other what just happened, confused over the treatment of this vital scene.
I am still in love with Les Miserables. Any fan should see this production, but go in expecting to see changes. The next time that it is in town, I will go see it again. By then, I hope they hear the fan’s prayers to return the iconic turntable stage. Restoring the original tempo and set will help a new generation fall in love with this musical so it can tour for many years to come.