On Tuesday I was transported to early 19th century revolutionary France as I took in the touring production of Les Misérables for my very first time at The Durham Performing Arts Center. This is a reworked production of the incredibly popular show and let me just say it is magnificent.
For those who have seen it before you will notice there is no longer a turntable stage like and there are new backdrops and sets inspired by the artwork of Voctor Hugo, lending a dark atmosphere to the show that allows for key elements of the performance to be singled out with dramatic lighting. There is also some great use of projection screens for wonderful visual effects that really add to experience.
These updates combined with the incredibly talented cast and the next to perfect pit orchestra performing Claude-Michel Schonberg’s moving score have launched this revamped production to new heights and I think audiences are really in for a treat.
The musical tells the story of love, redemption, and the human spirit. The show starts with Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell) being released from prison after 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. Once he is out he is treated as an outcast but a benevolent bishop takes pity on him and gives him a second chance to become and honest man. Eventually Jean Valjean becomes a successful factory owner under an assumed name, all the while he is pursued relentlessly by a police inspector named Javert (Josh Davis) for breaking his parole all those years ago.
We are introduced to Fantine (Melissa Mitchell), a young woman whose illegitimate daughter, Cosette, has been put into the care of a cruel and greedy couple, the Thenardiers (Allison Guinn and J Anthony Crane), who are second rate crooks that run a questionable inn. Feeling remorse for Fantine having been fired from her job at his factory and now on her death bead, Valjean promises to rescue her daughter and take care of her.
Once Cosette (Jillian Butler) grows up, Marius (Joshua Grosso) falls in love with her oblivious to the fact that Éponine (Talia Simone Robinson) is quietly in love with him and pines for his affection. Meanwhile a student revolution is underway in the streets of France, led by Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker), who leads the company on the barricades trying to rally people to their crusade with the “The People’s Song”.
Nick Cartell gave a heartfelt performance as the ex-convict Jean Valjean and played a wonderful foil to Josh Davis’s Inspector Javert and his passion for the rule of law. Melissa Mitchell is wonderful as the broken spirited Fantine. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” will move you and leave you wanting her character to stick around a little longer if only to share one more beautiful song. For me, one of the standout performances of the night was Talia Simone Robinson’s incredibly heartfelt performance as Éponine as she battles with unrequited love and a life that could have been. Her rendition of “On My Own” was one of the highlights of the night and nearly stole the show.
This Les Misérables production is based off some of the best source material in theater, but the stellar cast really took this show to new heights. While individual performances are sure to standout, I dare you not to get goosebumps when the chorus breaks out in “The People’s Song”
Don’t miss your chance to join the revolution before it leaves Durham this Sunday.
“Les Misérables” has performances at DPAC through Sunday, February 4th. For tickets visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/les-miserables.