'Les Mis' Brings the Dream to East Lansing
Despite being the third longest-running show on Broadway (and the world's longest running musical), Les Misérables has continued to provoke meaning and significance in the 21st century.
Millions upon millions of people watched a frumpy Scottish singer perform one of the show's signature songs, "I Dreamed a Dream", on Britain's Got Talent in 2009.
Now Susan Boyle is a household name; and no matter where she goes from here, it will be impossible to separate her from the song.
In some ways, the same could be said about the reverse.
A new film adaptation of Les Misérables is also in the works, with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried starring.
Yet the stage production of Les Mis, arriving at MSU's Wharton Center for a week-long engagement as an extension of the 25th Anniversary Tour, includes many visual and technological innovations.
They prove the beloved musical has found its place in the 21st century, while still maintaining the spirit, power, and emotion of the original show.
The audience is still captivated by the story of Jean Valjean (played brilliantly by understudy Joe Tokarz; Peter Lockyer will resume the role later this week), a man seeking redemption after being imprisoned for stealing bread to help his sister and her children.
Les Mis plays out the themes of revelation, sacrifice, freedom, and above all: love. It is love that rehabilitates Jean Valjean - in taking young Cosette under his wing, the convicted thief is given the one true prize. He is finally given something to lose, after having nothing to lose for so long. And as Cosette grows up and falls in love with Marius, he must find it in his heart to let go.
A revolution planned by a group of young students, an unrequited love for Marius by the down-on-her-luck Eponine, and the life-long Catch Me If You Can-like chase of Jean Valjean by Inspector Javert add layers to the rich story of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables.
The 25th Anniversary National Tour production benefits from the inclusion of strategically-used projections that flood the backdrop of the stage. From the pink light of dusk outside Jean Valjean's home to street scenes that move with the actors, this simple component helps to transform the stage into a moving, living thing.
The projections are especially used to great effect as the scene plunges from street level to the sewers, with Jean Valjean carrying an injured Marius away from the barricades in the Second Act. As the actors move across the stage, the tunnels of the sewer move with them, giving the scene depth and a sense of reality.
Along with the projections, the set pieces themselves glide effortlessly into place with each scene change. Despite a three-hour running time, Les Mis is a fast-paced show, a credit to the seamless transitions from scene to scene.
Les Misérables is also entirely sung - not typical of the musicals of today - which allows the actors on stage to transition into one of the dozens of memorable songs from the show.
Standouts include "Master of the House", sung by Thénardier, his Wife, and the customers of the inn. Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, played with physical commitment by Timothy Gulan and Shawna M. Hamic, are lovable despite being despicable characters. The duo adds slapstick comedy to balance out the dramatic, emotional moments of the show.
Another standout, "Bring Him Home", shows a tender side to the robust tenor of Jean Valjean's voice. In the quiet before the storm at the barricade, Valjean realizes one of the men he is with is Marius, who has expressed his love for Cosette in a letter. The refrain of "if I die, let me die, let him live" shows how the older Valjean is willing to sacrifice his life if Marius is to live and be with Cosette.
This quiet prayer, reprised in the final moments of the production, lets the audience know that Jean Valjean has finally found peace and redemption for past wrongs. It's a lesson for all.
Though the dream began several years ago, the success and continued presence of Les Misérables in our current culture has allowed that dream to thrive and live on.
Les Misérables is at the MSU Wharton Center through Sunday, April 8th. Visit the MSU Wharton Center website for more information about the show and tickets.