When I heard DTC was doing Les Mis my level of enthusiasm was not great. Cameron Mackintosh’s 25th Anniversary production has been through twice in the past couple of years and what could you add to improve on that mammoth production.
The answer is to put at the helm a director that has never seen the show in any form. A woman who took the advice of friends and did not see any but chose to create what her imagination dictated. What she delivers is a bold fresh take on a classic. Like so many have done with Shakespeare, Director Liesel Tommy takes a timeless story and moves it into a time that is more accessible to the masses.
Tommy’s Les Mis brings the action into the now and replaces the 1832 French Rebellion that dominates the second act with the fight experienced here in America and around the world best known as the Occupy Movement. The costumes are modern and the fight while still about the rights of those lesser than, the message is all about today. The messages are now about clean drinking water, fair wages for all, and putting people before profit.
The Occupy Movement meshes perfectly with Victor Hugo’s tale first published in 1862. Tommy’s vision proves the old adage “the more things change the more they stay the same.”
Performed on a rake stage the audience feels they are part of the action as the actors move in and out of the audience enveloping them into the story. And what a story it is. It tells us about the justice system and how unjust it is. It reminds us that second chances are rarely available to those incarcerated. And it shows us the different life available when second chances are given. Ultimately, it tells the story of a man that in the face of unbelievable odds and often times everything pushing him in the other direction always struggles to do the right thing.
That man is Jean Valjean and he is perfectly performed by Nehal Joshi. Perfect in every way, his voice, his emotion, his performance each is flawless. Valjean (pronounced Val-John) is chased through life by Javert a police Inspector whose life mission is to recapture Valjean. Edward Watts Javert is spot on.
Valjean, tears up the identification card that marks him as a former prisoner after many doors are closed in his face. He creates a new identity for himself one that leads him to success and a life of righting his wrongs. One such wrong leads him to caring for the daughter of a factory worker who was turned out into the street by the manager of a factory he owned. Fantine, the factory worker, who was left with a daughter to care for and few options turns to a life of prostitution that ultimately leads to her death.
Valjean feeling responsible for not stopping her banishment from the factory makes a commitment to the dying Fantine that he will care for her daughter as his own. Allison Blackwell as Fantine is strong, pure and so emotional. You will feel her struggle, her pain deep inside you.
Valjean travels to collect Cosette after her mother’s death leading him to Inn keepers Thenardier and Madame Thenardier, caregivers, I say that loosely, to the young Cosette. Steven Michael Walters who you will recognize from many DTC productions injects some much needed humor into such a deep story. Madame Thenardier as played by Christria Mantzke is a standout. This cast does not have a weak link, but Mantzke owns the stage when she is on it. She does with this part what I imagine Roseanne or Rosalind Russell would have done with it in their heyday.
Of course there is the music, the score of Les Mis is timeless and the sometimes complicated score is presented here perfectly. There are too many great performances to point them all out here but some highlights are Allison’ Blackwell’s “I Dreamed a Dream”, which left many in the house in tears. “Master of the House” as presented by Walters and Mantzke was too much fun and Mantzke in the “Wedding Chorale” alone is worth the price of admission. All are performed with the accompaniment of a superb orchestra.
It has not been a great year for live theater in Dallas/Fort Worth, I am hoping DTC’s Production of Les Miserables signals a change is coming. In any case if you only see one show this year this is the one. I will even go you one better, get season tickets. DTC never disappoints.
This production is definitely not for the young; there are some graphic sexual scenes that I would say are definitely PG-13.
Les Miserables runs about three hours with one fifteen minute intermission at the Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District through August 17th. Tickets are $15-$195, with second balcony seats at $15 there is no reason to miss this blockbuster in the Wyly’s intimate space there are no bad seats. Tickets are available at http://www.attpac.org/on-sale/2014/les-miserables/ Enjoy!!
All photos by Karen Almond
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