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Concert Reviews:
One time more, "Les Miserables" is magical at the Fisher

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2018

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It’s hard to go too wrong with “Les Miserables” -- even when some major changes have been made to the iconic musical..

The latest incarnation of the award-winning adaptation of Victor Hugo’s tale of ultimate redemption -- playing through March 11 at the Fisher Theatre -- gives the 38-year-old production a striking new look without sacrificing any of the motional heft and resonance of its message. And in some cases it creates new moments that are just as, and maybe even more, memorable than their predecessors.

Gone is the on-stage turntable that was so revolutionary when “Les Miz” began, and would still be a good look today. But this version is still bolstered by nimble scenery, much of it automated, that includes buildings as well as projections and backdrops -- some made from author Hugo’s own paintings of early 19th century Paris. This “Les Miz” stage has depth and richness that’s generally more traditional but also contains its own inventive daring.

Among those are the battle scene, portrayed from behind the barricade built by the student rebels to make the threat of the French army more sinister. Inspector Javert’s suicide is even more stunning than in the original productions, making use of lighting and projections as he plunges into a dark abyss, while a stripped-down staging of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” makes Marius’ grief over his compatriots’ deaths even more profound.

But the truth is that “Les Miz” can look however it wants as long as one certain element is in place -- the music.

The melodies of Claude-Michel Schonberg, who also wrote “Les Miz’s” stage book, are simply ageless and bulletproof, both rousing and tear-jerking at the appropriate moments. And anymore, they play to an audience that applauds each song like a pop hit in its own right and ready to sing along if the cast was not so strong.

This production does rush the tempos on too many of the songs; “On My Own” in particular, delivered with a bit of Valley Girl ‘tude by Emily Bautista as Eponine, comes off as hurried as it blows through its dynamic space and steals the impact of one of the usual show-stoppers. And some of the student chorale numbers, such as “ABC Cafe/Red and Black,” are put to brisk paces that don’t serve them well.

But the musical scores when it counts. Nick Cartell, solid and often spectacular as Jean Valjean, milks every bit of emotion out of “Bring Him Home,” and his exchanges with Josh Davis’ Javert convey a steely chemistry that draws out the brittle balance of hatred and respect between the two characters. J. Anthony Crane and Allison Guinn as the Thernadiers, meanwhile, bring ample comic relief and superb timing to their campy characterizations.

And the entire cast seems gifted with bionic lungs, covering the musical’s many extended notes and emotive crescendos. You can hear the people sing, for sure.

This “Les Miz” isn’t a complete reinvention, but it is a fresh look that’s merited as it nears the 40-year mark. The good news is that rather than mere cost-cutting, the changes make it well worth spending one tim emore with something that’s become a long-lived and trusted theatrical friend.

If You Go

• “Les Miserables”

• Through March 11

• Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit.

• Tickets are $45-$350.

• Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

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