Back from Les Miz 2.0, the 25th anniversary full-scale re-thinking of the 1985 amazingness. I wasn't really sure I wanted to see this, since the 1985 KenCen pre-Broadway run was so indelible, but they promised this one would be good, and it certainly erased the memory of the tacky road-show version that carried on at the National a few years ago.
It is critical that I be induced to weep during the First Act Finale ("One Day More"), and the fact is, with this show, I began weeping when the priest brings Jean Valjean into his home--"have a seat, have some wine"--the first act of human kindness extended to the villainous bread thief Valjean after 19 years of captivity. This is even before the priest pays it forward by not turning him in to Javert for stealing the silver. Why didn't I bring tissues? Anyway, the cathartic requirement of theater was amply met.
I'm a little dim on French history, but I believe this takes place after the big Revolution. People are still jobless and desperate, discontented with the wealthy.
Which is pretty much where we are today. It's hard not to notice the similarities between Marius and his compatriots and the Occupiers of Wall Streets around the world just now. What they also have in common, in my mind, is the lack of a clear goal and strategy for achieving it. So far in the twenty-first-century version, at least the disobedience and protests have been largely civil.
Back to the show.... The other similarity I was struck by was to West Side Story (aka Romeo and Juliet), even so far as the staging of the lovers' first rendezvous o'er garden walls and under balconies. And of course the grand Act One Finale that weaves the threads of character and melodic themes into one magical tapestry of urgency, to get through the line at the restroom and back in your seat to see how it all turns out in Act Two.
Dissimilarities to the original production in 1985: Well, you don't have Colm Wilkinson, Frances Ruffelle, or Patti LuPone. The 2011 Valjean, J. Mark McVey, is an indomitable presence, but his delivery was more theatrical than Wilkinson's; that is, the lines were acted as much as sung. I'm trying to say this without judgment; different is just different. Wilkinson's voice had as much power as tenderness and created a purer characterization of Valjean.
The biggest dissimilarity among the actors was in Eponine, portrayed in the original by the heartbreakingly waifish Ruffelle and in the 2011 version by Chasten Harmon, far too sultry and womanly to be a waif (the character references Anybodys from West Side Story). She's more of a Spamalot Lady of the Lake, wondering what ever happened to her part.
The bottom line: I and my fellow standing-ovation-givers give the production an A. But I didn't get the cast recording. I have the cast recording.
A side note: the bio in the program for Cameron MacIntosh, the show's producer, made me smile. It reads, in its entirety:
Cameron MacIntosh (Producer) produces musicals.