We expect a lot from touring Broadway shows to go along with their ticket prices, and “Les Misérables,” now playing at the Hippodrome, does not disappoint. Producer Cameron Mackintosh’s new staging of this Tony Award®-winning musical is based on Victor Hugo’s darkly Victorian 1862 novel about the evils of society, the mistreatment of children, and the perils of the poor, as well as the power of love and the importance of redemption. Directed here by Lawrence Connor and James Powell, with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer (concept, book, and original French lyrics by Alain Boublil), the story follows the lifelong pursuit of Jean Valjean by his nemesis, police inspector Javert.
The vocals are extraordinary…the solos are spine tingling and nearly perfect.
Javert originally puts Valjean in prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. When Valjean breaks parole to try to lead a better life, Javert is willing to track him to the ends of the earth to put him back in prison. Javert is driven by his strict morals and the law and can make no allowances for redemption. Through various aliases and some luck, Valjean becomes a successful and wealthy businessman, but Javert is never far behind. After a lifetime of good deeds to make up for his transgressions, including raising Little Cosette, a fired employee’s child, Valjean finally finds grace before death.
The side story of the innkeeper Thénardier and his wife, Cosette’s abusive guardians, give welcome comic relief to the heaviness of the plot. From the moment Madame Thérnadier plops onto stage, she and her thieving husband are mugging and mocking through every scene in which they appear.
The vocals are extraordinary. The solos by Valjean (Nick Cartell); Javert (Preston Truman Boyd); Cosette’s mother, Fantine (Haley Dortch); the Thénardiers’ daughter, Eponine (Christine Heesun Hwang); and the young student, Marius (Gregory Lee Rodriguez), with whom Cosette falls in love, are spine tingling and nearly perfect. The entire cast is equally talented in the ensemble numbers.
In this production, it is hard to say which is more impressive, the vocals or the staging. Projections are common in theatre, but here (Image Designer Matt Kinley; Projection Realization by Finn Ross and 59 Productions), they are inspired by Victor Hugo’s original drawings and take on the quality of dark watercolors that evolve with each scene. At times, they become motion pictures to supplement the action on the stage as Javert falls into the river or the rebels march through the streets.
Set and Image Designer Kinley also created sets that are towering, ramshackle constructions that underscore the perils of living in them. Huge pieces move seamlessly on and off from a fog or from behind a scrim then disappear into the night. There are no curtains at work here, and except for the briefest of blackouts there is never a break in the action.
The lighting, designed by Paul Constable, plays a huge part in the beauty of this production. Darkly lit to underscore the solemnness of the lives of the characters onstage, one is reminded of the oppressiveness of Van Gogh’s “Potato Eaters,” or, at best, peasants working in the fields of a Millet painting, aged in yellows and blues. The lighting, explosions, and staging of the battle on the barricades makes that scene tragically real. The lights shine through set pieces to become a ship at sea or take the action, and us, to another place entirely—which, of course, is why we love theatre.
Running time: Approximately two hours and 55 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Recommended for ages 10 and up.
Also of note: Ten-year-old Towson native and Bryn Mawr student, Hazel Vogel, can be seen playing Little Cosette on this tour.
“Les Misérables” runs through February 12, 2023 at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For more information about tickets, call 800-343-3103 or go online. Masks are optional.