Even after 40 years, Les Misérables’ story of redemption can bring on the tears .
As seen at Spokane’s First Interstate Center for the Arts Nov. 14-19, the touring production of the blockbuster musical may not be new to many, but it is a masterful recreation of the classic tale of a prisoner who stole a loaf of bread.
Les Misérables’ defining trait in musical theater canon is its vastness. The musical is epic in every sense of the word, and this touring production’s technical elements meet that reputation – with immersive projects and a set of interlocking tenements representing the world of Paris’ underclass. The second act’s barricades thrill as the set and lighting convey the terror flashing through the minds of young revolutionaries.
The show is carried on Nick Cartell’s capable shoulders as convict-turned-mayor Jean Valjean – with soaring high notes putting the audience in a trance, especially in the softly lifting “Bring Him Home” in Act 2.
Cartell has been with the Les Misérables tour for many years and has performed in the role over a thousand times.
With older actors in the role, Valjean can seem paternal toward the dying Fantine while promising to care for her daughter. In this production, Valjean appears to have suddenly found the love of his life in Fantine, played by Haley Dortch – who achingly describes how she was let down by love in a haunting “I Dreamed a Dream.”
But as Valjean quickly ages throughout the show, Cartell, in his late 30s, can at times strain credulity as an elderly man limping across the stage – even as his voice wows the audience.
Victoria Huston-Elem and understudy John Ambrosino steal the show as the equally menacing and hilarious innkeepers the Thénardiers. Despite their bumbling onstage antics, it’s clear from the pair’s performances that the couple cared for each other in a way that is sweet even as it is evil.
The standout member of the production’s cast is Preston Truman Boyd as the dogged Inspector Javert – who was able to menace the audience as well as Prisoner 24601 with his low baritone. As Javert’s mental state unravels near the end of the show, Boyd’s preening that had intimidated before melts into a shadow of a man realizing his life’s mission was a lie.
The tragedy of Javert so evidenced in Boyd’s performance is his inability to seek forgiveness for his sins from God or himself. That is in stark contrast with Valjean, who spends the entire show seeking and receiving forgiveness.
That theme central to Les Misérables is evident in this touring production nearly 40 years after the musical initially appeared, and no doubt will continue for many years to come.