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Review Roundup: ‘Les Miserables’

The second Broadway revival of Les Miserables opened at the Imperial Theater on March 23. The original production of the epic musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel of faith and redemption in 19th-century France opened in New York in 1987, after a hit London run. That production won nine Tony Awards including Best Musical and ran until 2003 for 6,680 performances. A scaled-down revival opened in 2006 and ran for 463 performances. Tim Hooper’s film version opened in 2012 and starred Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway (Best Supporting Actress Oscar). The memorable score features music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel and includes such hits as “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” and “Bring Him Home.” This production, which began as a touring version in 2010, is directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell and stars Ramin Karimloo (London Phantom), Will Swenson (Hair, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), Caissie Levy (Hair, Ghost), Nikki M. James (Tony winner for The Book of Mormon), Andy Mientus (Smash), Keala Settle (Hands on a Hard Body), Cliff Saunders (The 39 Steps), Samantha Hill, and Kyle Scatliffe.

Most critics were enthusiastic about this third Broadway Les Miz. Linda Winer of Newsday went so far as to call it superior to the 1987 original. Even those who admitted not being particularly fond of the show found the staging admirable. Many praised Karimloo’s intense Jean Valjean while Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post singled out Will Swenson’s stern Javert. David Cote of Time Out New York and Matt Windman of AM New York were among the few to be totally disapproving. Windman panned most of the performances and called the revival “disheartening for those who were raised on the original show.”  Here are excerpts from the major reviewers:

 

Les Misserables

Les Misserables on Broadway in New York City (Photo: Michael Le Poer Trench)

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
“The highlight of his performance, and perhaps the production as a whole, is Mr. Karimloo’s beautifully restrained but richly felt rendition of ‘Bring Him Home,’ one of the score’s less thundering songs, in which Valjean sends up a prayer for Marius, who has fallen at the barricades after falling for Cosette (Samantha Hill), whom Valjean has raised after her mother’s death. Mr. Karimloo’s croon is as sweet as his belt is big.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“When [Karimloo] sings ‘Bring Him Home,’ the heaven-sent octave-leaping plea for mercy, his purity and hushed fervor lifts the production to a higher level. This second-act scene set amid bloody corpses of idealist students provides a compelling reason for Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s warhorse to be back on Broadway.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“Karimloo introduces himself with a bang … His performance is affecting throughout, but Swenson is a bigger revelation….Overall, the staging sacrifices vision and ambition for brisk efficiency, and the highlights tend to come from individual actors seizing the moment by the throat.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“The well-traveled Les Miserables has rolled into town for its third bite at the Broadway apple—not to mention fresh off a celebrated 2012 film—but there’s nothing tiresome about its gloomy, aching heartbeat. Directed this time by Laurence Connor and James Powell, with new orchestrations, stagecraft and costumes, this terrific Les Miserables opened Sunday at the Imperial Theatre, capping a national tour that began in 2010.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“In fact, this smartly cast Les Miz, directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, has clearer, tighter storytelling and less bombast than the internationally celebrated 1987 original.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“Karimloo’s unforced majesty can, of course, underscore the mugging around him. There are Cliff Saunders and Keala Settle, providing overzealous comic relief as the conniving Thénardiers, who threaten to reveal Valjean’s true identity. Conversely, as Enjolras, a leader of the student revolutionaries, Kyle Scatliffe sustains a face of stone right up to the bloody scene at the barricades—executed here with all the noise and fuss you’d expect.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“[L]ike the overwrought sung-through recitative, the songs are mostly delivered at high decibels….Technically and stylistically, this is quite a good show and sure to please the fans. It doesn’t really need to twist and shout to be heard.”

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
“This critic-proof production will likely speak loudest to young audiences coming to it onstage relatively fresh–not those of us who have been anesthetized by 30 years of over-exposure. And maybe that’s just as it should be.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“The revelation is Ramin Karimloo, an Iranian-born Canadian who is well known inLondonbut makes his Broadway debut here. As Jean Valjean, the petty criminal turned respected citizen still on the run from the law, Karimloo projects a masculine authority that cannily reveals hidden pockets of vulnerability.”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“As the persecuted but morally upright Jean Valjean, Ramin Karimloo brings steel-and-honey pipes to his anthemic numbers but, like many fellow cast members, falls into the “park and bark” school of acting. (Not so Nikki M. James, exuding genuine pluck and wryness as lovelorn Eponine.)”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“Although it offers many rich new details and an emphasis on violence, the revival is marred by miscasting and bad singing. Often it feels as if you’re watching ‘American Idol Presents Les Misérables.’”

David Finkle, Huffington Post
“This isn’t your grandfather’s Les Miz, as it’s more familiarly known. It’s the new and enhanced-in-some-ways-diminished-in-others Les Miz, and it very much takes into account the movie and the possible expectations that it’s planted in the eyes, ears and minds of ticket buyers.”

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