Breathtaking 'Les Misérables' Tour in San Diego for Two Weeks
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, Oct. 6, 2023
Goosebump-raising vocals and visually stunning scenery bring Victor Hugo's classic story Les Misérables to life for yet another generation of audiences in the touring company's swing through San Diego. The production, under the direction of Laurence Connor and James Powell, will be playing at the Civic through October 15.
Taking place in 19th century France, Les Misérables follows the life of Jean Valjean, a convict who is jailed for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread and trying to escape. Upon release by prison guard Javert, Valjean finds that his continued association as a parolee prevents him from acquiring employment. One desperate night, while staying with a kindly bishop, he decides to steal the man's silver in order to try to start a new life. When Valjean is caught, rather than affirming his guilt, the bishop insists to the police that the silver was a gift, thus reaffirming Valjean's belief in the possibility for redemption and leading him to escape for the greater part of a decade, assuming a new identity: that of factory owner and mayor of Montreuil. Eight years later, Fantine, one of the factory's employees, has been driven out by coworkers who discover that she has a daughter hidden away and a retribution-seeking factory foreman. Without any other means of survival, Fantine is forced into prostitution and becomes ill. In the meantime, Valjean is facing a moral crisis of mistaken identity, having learned that another man has been arrested and stands to return to the chain gang in his place.
Unable to condemn another to chains, Valjean proclaims his guilt in court before running to comfort Fantine at her deathbed. Promising to protect her daughter, Cosette, Valjean avoids capture by overtaking Inspector Javert. He finds Cosette living with extortionist inkeepers Monseiur and Madame Thénardier and their daughter, Éponine, and takes her away to Paris. Nine years later, Valjean and Cosette are living in a Paris unsettled by the impending death of General Lamarque. Students Marius and Enjolras hope that an uprising will bring opportunity for the poor, and Éponine Thénardier, now grown, is in love with the revolutionary Marius; oblivious to her suit, Marius, on the other hand, cannot take his eyes off of Cosette. As revolution draws closer and closer yet, Inspector Javert likewise closes in on Valjean, threatening his security.
Leading the Cameron Mackintosh production is Nick Cartell as fugitive Jean Valjean. Cartell not only does a beautiful job with the soaring and passionate numbers he is dealt in Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s epic score, but also carries incredible intentionality in his characterization, ranging from angry and triggered as a parolee, to tender and reverent in his interactions with young Cosette, to resigned and hopeful as he leaves his beloved daughter in the watchful care of her beau. His rendition of "Who Am I?" and "Bring Him Home" are both fervent and flawlessly executed.
Opposite Cartell, Preston Truman Boyd does a wonderful job as the tenacious Inspector Javert, shining in numbers like "Stars." Boyd's timbre is rich and resonant and his character choices, including an elevating rivalry in "The Confrontation" and a hand on the young Gavroche before "Soliloqouy," help telegraph the struggle that Javert ulimately faces.
Other stand-outs from Wednesday evening included Gregory Lee Rodriguez as Marius and understudy David Young Fernandez as Enjoras, whose "Red and Black," "Do You Hear The People Sing?" and "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables were in turn inciting and hauntingly heartbreaking. Haley Dortch, as Fantine, also brought a desperation to her role; her delivery of “I Dreamed a Dream" was spot on in its intensity.
The large touring cast also includes principles Matt Crowle (Thénardier), Victoria Huston-Elem (Madame Thénardier), Addie Morales (Cosette), Olivia Grace O’Sullivan (Young Cosette), Sky Vaux Fuller (Young Éponine), Henry Kirk (Gavroche), Phoenix Best (Éponine), and a talented ensemble: Kyle Adams, Daniel Gerard Bittner, Ciaran Bowling, Jenna Burns, Ben Cherington, Steve Czarnecki, Kelsey Denae, Arianne DiCerbo, Genevieve Ellis, Michelle Beth Herman, Mya Rena Hunter, Randy Jeter, Cameron Loyal, Eden Mau, Andrew Marks Maughan, Nicole Morris, Ashley Dawn Mortensen, Tim Quartier, Julia Ellen Richardson, Ethan Rogers, Christopher Robin Sapp, Greta Schaefer, Emily Somé, Christopher James Tamayo, Kyle Timson and J.T. Wood.
The performance was led by associate conductor Eric Ebbenga, who conducted a 15-piece orchestra. I was entranced by the musicality and balance of the ensemble; from pizzicato lines to brass rips to lyrical phrasing, the orchestral accompaniment was outstanding.
The touring production of Les Misérables is crafted to exist in a world inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, and Set and Image Designer Matt Kinley has captured the moodiness of this inspiration in a way that translates well to stage. Paired with projections realized by Finn Ross, Jonathon Lyle and Fifty Nine Productions, the set walls are always moving, tilting, and transitioning the audience through the play's many locales and time periods. While the stage is dimly lit, this is no way impedes the ability to interact with the story; rather, lighting designer Paule Constable has created a space in which beams of light are applied artistically and representationally (most often, to represent death) to tell the story. Apparel for the production is also on point, under the supervision of costume team Andreane Neofitou, Christine Rowland, and Paul Willis. Adept sound design is handled by Mick Potter with musical staging by Geoffrey Garratt.
Les Mis was in San Diego just a few years ago before the tour closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. I recall being enchanted with it then, and the feeling of awe has not changed. The majesty of Les Misérables lies not only its rich characters, but also in its circular storytelling, recognizable challenges, and thematic complexity, alongside a spectacular score. Under the watchful eye of this cast and creative team, I am hopeful that the magic of the production will continue to be cherished for generations beyond my own.
Les Misérables is in town until October 15 at Broadway San Diego's Civic Theatre. Don't wait to get your tickets... if the quality of this show is any indicator, they will go fast.