[by David Wallace]
This review of the regional premiere of Les Miserables could easily turn into a rambling essay equivalent to Victor Hugo’s 1300 page tome. I could lose myself in the underground sewers of the Paris of 1832 and perhaps never be seen again.
As briefly as possible, here is the story. At the heart of the tale is Jean Valjean, who is sentenced to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. He is eventually released only to commit another crime for which he is hounded by police officer Javert for most of the rest of his life. Valjean meets the tragic Fantine who dies and leaves her daughter, Cosette, in his care.
Cosette falls in love with Maurius, a leader of the 1832 Revolution, who is loved hopelessly by Eponine. All of this is framed by Napoleon’s loss at Waterloo in 1815 (mercifully not in the play) and the Workers Revolution in Paris in 1832. There is much, much more but that’s the gist.
CenterStage’s production is an epic one and includes, according to the program notes, 800 costumes and a stage featuring three different turntables, but the essence of this production is the music and the voices.
The task is to go beyond the cardboard cutout quality of many musicals into uncharted territory. This is a pop opera – difficult to sing and perform, but this cast was up to the task.
First and foremost, all hail to CenterStage veteran Jeremy Moon, who takes Valjean from middle-aged criminal to elderly statesman. He’s never been better. Josh Gilliam as Javert stands up well to Moon’s Valjean and the lighting used to accentuate his death scene was one of the highlights of the show.
But, really, practically the whole cast could be mentioned. Early on, Fantine, played by Jill Higginbotham, sings “I Dreamed a Dream,” makes it her own and absolutely blows the audience away.
Other notables are Margo Wooldridge, who plays Cosette and has impressive range and Lauren McCombs, who plays Eponine, the lover scorned by Marius, played by Jordan Price.
The villainous Thenardiers, played by Monty Fields and Glenna Godfrey, provide much needed comic relief from the intense story line. Add the artistic direction, lights, music direction, choreography, costume design, and it is apparent that Artistic Director John Leffert has taken CenterStage to a new level as one of the leading lights in Louisville’s theatre scene.
What will they do for an encore?