Encore Michigan

‘Les Mis’ at The Fisher is big and wonderful

ReviewTheatre Talk December 23, 2022 David Kiley

DETROIT, MI–There are fans of Broadway’s big big shows. And there are those who dislike the big-cast long-running extravaganzas. Les Mis has its enthusiast fans, and its detractors. For the fans, the Les Mis touring show, now appearing at The Fisher Theatre as part of the Broadway in Detroit series, is a big big delight.

This production has been hitting regional theaters since 2014 with different casts, of course. The biggest change from the Broadway original is the excellent use of projections that work with set pieces that spin in and out of the stage. For example, when Jean Valjean carries the wounded Marius through the Paris sewers and is pursued by Javert, the shifting 3D-like surroundings are stunning in the way they mimic the sewers of Paris as Valjean and then Thernardier simply walk into the setting that seems cinematic rather than theatrical. The lighting design, too, is exceptional, with backlighting, for example, streaming through windows to emphasizes changes in the time of day and mood.

Les Mis is hailed as the most popular musical in the world. But I often wonder how many people have actually read the original 1862 story written by Victor Hugo. Jean Valjean, who stole a loaf of bread for his sister’s dying son, was enslaved on a galleon for 19 years. When released, he steals candlesticks from an Abbey, but is cleared of wrong-doing by the kindly Bishop of Digne. Valjean becomes an upright citizen , and even Mayor. Still, Javert never stops looking for Valjean for skipping parole, and eventually sorts out that the beloved citizen is actually his man.

Valjean comes to the rescue of the sick and destitute Fantine and promises her that he will raise her daughter Cosette, who she has placed in care with the lascivious Ternardiers in exchange for money she has made as a prostitute and selling her hair. He ultimately joins the French revolutionaries, and protects Cosette’s love, Marius.

The entire show is sung, and is full of numbers and anthems that bring he audience to their feet mid-show, and that stay in your head on the drive home and into the next day after seeing it. “Bring Him Home” sung by Valjean always knocks out the audience because of the high notes it requires the actor to hit and sustain. “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” sung by Marius as a lament after his revolutionary mates are killed is also always moving. “Stars” sung by Javert about his search for Valjean.

And, of course, “I Dreamed A Dreamed” is a staple of actress auditions for any show, and was made famous, or infamous, by unlikely star Susan Boyle on the U.K.’s Britain’s Got Talent, and went on to release 8 albums. The film with Russell Crowe as Javert and High Jackman as Valjean is both loved and hated, and is often held up as the best example of why you don’t hire an actor (Crowe) who can’t sing…to sing.

In other words, the story and song has entered pop culture like Hugo could never have imagined.

The story is so big and popular that most casting directors just need to find actors who can deliver on the score. And this current cast does an excellent job while also delivering on diversity.

Nick Cartell as Valjean has excellent pipes and excels at expressing his characters love and rectitude. Preston Truman nails Javert with the character’s presence that is both commanding, and pathetic at times. Christina Rose Hall is funny and delicious as Madame Thernadier. Matt Crowe is wonderful as Monsieur Thenardier, one of the great supporting roles in all of theater. Haley Dortch, a current student at University of Michigan, is superb as Fantine. Gregory Lee Rodriguez makes for an excellent Marius. Steve Czarnecki, from Rochester Hills plays the Factory Foreman and Brujon. Kyle Timson is a swing and dance captain, and hails from U of M.

Les Mis plays through January 8. Tickets have sold fast. If you can manage them, take advantage and bring the family. There are student rush tickets for $35, and you can avoid Ticketmaster fees by buying at The Box Office in The Fisher Building.

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