Broadway in Detroit Brings ‘Les Miz’ to MoTown
Les Miserables has become, as Ed Sullivan used to say, “a really big shoe (sic).” The current production at The Fisher Theatre, as part of the Broadway in Detroit, series, is no exception.
For better or for worse, Les Miz has become a cult following, filling seats in just about every regional theatre the touring show will hit. People who may go to on or two shows a year go to the nearest showing of Les Miz. It’s such a guaranteed seat filler that the “Junior” version has become a staple and box office gold for schools.
The story should be familiar. Jean Valjean does time as a galley slave for stealing bread to feed his sister’s child. After 19 years, he breaks his parole after stealing silver candlesticks from a monastery where he is staying. The priest ends up covering for him in front of police inspector Javert. Valjean goes on to be a great success in business and as a mayor, but he is still technically on the run, having broken parole.
Javert never forgets and when he recognizes Valjean after he helps save a man trapped under a horse cart by lifting the cart with his hidden strength, he vows to bring Valjean to justice. Meantime, the uprising of 1832 is happening in the background. Valjean years earlier took charge of an orphan girl, Cosette, whose Mother, Fantine, had died after turning to prostitution to support the care of her daughter. And he would do anything to safeguard Cosette and her love, Marius.
The performance that I saw, which was not the official press night, had several understudy actors playing key roles, such as Steve Czarnecki as Jean Valjean, Robert Ariza as Marius and Sarah Cetrulo as Cosette. Czarnecki played a solid, if not charismatic, Valjean. His singing is quite good and he exhibits marvelous vocal control and perfect pitch in solo “Bring Him Home.” Josh Davis plays a lanky Javert, and his menacing quality unfortunately sometimes seems campy. In his key solo, “Stars,” he chooses to sing-speak several lines, a choice I have seen before. But in Javert’s signature song, I prefer to not feel the actor is doing it for the thousandth time even if he is.
One of the showstoppers for me was Eponine’s (Emily Bautista) solo “On My Own.” Ms. Bautista has a massive, but lovely pitch-perfect voice coming from a small frame, and she is one to keep an eye on. Other performances to spotlight are Allison Guinn as Madame Thenardier and J Anthony Crane as Thenardier. This gutter-snipe grifter couple was paid by Fantine to look after Cosette when she was a small girl, and they are always making mischief in the background of the story as they try to get as much out of Valjean as possible. Any production of Les Miz has to have a deliciously nasty Thenardier couple if it is going to succeed, and Mr. Crane and Ms. Guinn deliver all the way and back. Guinn is funny, saucy, bawdy and bright, while Crane is wiry and so generally stinky in a delightful way that you can smell the comedic odor from the balcony.
The use of lighting and rear projection in this production is excellent. Creating the sewers of Paris, for example, via rear projection is extremely effective. And Javert’s suicide scene is especially deftly created through a combination of light and projection in a way so clever that I can’t describe exactly what was done except to say that it worked beautifully.
Tickets for the remaining performances are hard to come bu. But for Miz-Heads, it’s a worthy production and a “really big shoe.”