(Photo: Deen van Meer)
There’s nothing that gives me chills like the opening melodies of One Day More. It’s one of my favorite ensemble numbers and it will always stop me in my tracks whether it’s in a feature film trailer or if it’s being done by an Asian YouTuber who sings all nine parts. It is only one of many memorable numbers in the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables. After over 25 years in production (the longest running musical in the world) the show continues to be a hit. Now on its fourth U.S. tour the show has grossed as much as a $1 million a week. Arriving at the National Theatre for its 10th time in The District since 1986, the all new production features new staging and sets inspired by the paintings of Hugo. However all the songs you’ve come to know and love are the same. I Dreamed A Dream, On My Own, Do You Hear the People Sing?, and the previously mentioned One Day More can be found in a powerful and vibrant show that continues to wow audiences after a quarter century on the stage.
The classic tale of redemption starts with Jean Valjean (Peter Lockyer), a man in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving sister and her child. When Valjean is finally released from jail he violates his parole and finds himself on the run from Inspector Javert (Andrew Varela). Valjean takes up a new identity and a new life of redemption for his past transgressions. Fantine (Genevieve Leclerc) is a worker in a factory owned by Valjean. She struggles to make ends meet to support her daughter Cosette (played as an adult by Lauren Wiley). When Valjean promises to take care of Cosette upon Fantine’s death, he sets out to rescue her from her two charlatan caretakers The Thenardiers (Timothy Gulan and Shawna M. Hamic). Now hiding in Paris, they all get caught up in student uprisings led by citizens Marius (Devin Ilaw) and Enjolras (Jason Forbach).
The operatic, sing-through nature of Les Mis is a demanding task that takes an extremely talented ensemble to pull off. The cast steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park for the most part. Valjean, Javert, Fatine, and Epionine (Briana Carson-Goodman) all find their moments to shine when it comes their turn. The Thenardier duo provides plenty of comic relief to an otherwise heavy drama but Hamic as Madame Thenardier steals every scene she is in and is an absolute stand out compared to her partner in crime.
On the tech side, the projection effects used to establish scenes are extremely impressive. When Enjolras marches his rebellious group down the streets of Paris, the projected still background moves step-in-step with him. The production does a good job dealing with the odd and cramped dimensions of the National Theatre but there are still some signs that the show is still figuring out some of the unique intricacies of the space.
DC finds itself in a unique position this Holiday season. When the premiere of the film adaptation directed by Tom Hooper comes December 25th, The District will be one of the only cities that will have both Les Mis on stage and screen. For those that enjoy “reading the book” before the movie, make sure you get a ticket and hear what the people are singing.
Les Miserables, performs through December 30, 2012 at the National Theatre. The National Theatre is located at 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest Washington, DC 20004. Closest Metro stop: Metro Center (Red/Orange/Blue line). For more information call 800-447-7400.