The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp DC Review
Les Miserables

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong.

— From "I Dreamed a Dream," sung by Fantine.
In December, 1986 Les Miserables made its US debut at the Kennedy Center after its unparalleled success in London. The 25th anniversary production at the Kennedy Center through October 30, 2011, and then on a nationwide tour to 23 more cities (for specifics, see, is an updated version of the original. This version has undergone several changes -- most notably in the cast -- since the 2010 performance at the Paper Mill Playhouse (for a review of that production and a song listgo here ).

Fortunately I saw the 1986 Kennedy Center production and had read the book long before because the Prologue in the current version is very hard to comprehend due to over-amplification and the speed with which the performers sing. Apart from prompting the desire to throttle the sound engineers, this production should please a younger generation new to the piece as much as those of us who know the story, the show and the lyrics by heart. At the performance I attended, by the second act, either the sound engineers got their act together or the ear adjusted to the decibel level.

Claude-Michel Schonberg's melodic poperatic music and Herbert Kretzmer's sentimental lyrics are as lusciously romantic and moving the umpteenth time around as they were when the show was new. The Kennedy Center Opera House does well (when not drowning out the singers) and most of the voices -- particularly J. Mark McVey as Jean Valjean, Chaston Harmon's Eponine and Betsy Morgan's Fantine -- are excellent.

The song "Little People," endearingly sung by Ethan Paul Khusidman as Gavroche seems shorter than previously. For comic relief, Shawna M. Hamic deserves the laughs she gets, particularly in the wedding scene, while her stage husband, Thenadier, is played with much vulgarity and sitcom timing by Richard Vida. Leader of the student rebellion of 1832, the shaggy-haired Jeremy Hays makes a strong impression as Enjolras. His commanding presence and gorgeous voice bring tremendous energy to the first act finale, "One More Day."

Where this production differs from those of the past is in the way it looks. The turntable is gone and scenes change from the wings in fairly rapid succession. Set designer Matt Kinley, inspired by Victor Hugo's dark charcoal and ink drawings, provides backdrops that suggest the soot and grime of factories and polluted city living with an occasional cupola à la Sacre Coeur in the background. But what is truly innovative are the projections against the theater's back wall by Fifty-Nine Productions, the UK-based film and new media company specializing in integrating moving images into live performance, such as their highly successful War Horse.

When Jean Valjean carries over his shoulder the wounded Marius through an all-too-real sewer beneath the streets of Paris, the scene is so realistic and so cinematic that the audience feels as though it is being pulled into a vortex. Similarly when Javert makes his fateful jump from a bridge into the river below, we, the audience, feel as though we are watching him sink further and further into the deep. Both images are brilliant coups de théatre.

Not everything is easy to see in this production. Lighting Designer Paule Constable makes the stage so dark that the audience does not always know the details of what's happening or who is singing. Presumably directors Laurence Connor and James Powell made that part of the aesthetic.

Perfect or imperfect, Les Mis goes on "One Day More," if not one century more. And no wonder. It was and probably always will be a great show.

Les Miserables
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel
Additional material by James Fenton
  Based on the novel by Victor Hugo
  Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell
  Cast: J. Mark McVey (Jean Valjean), Andrew Varela (Javert), James Zannelli (The Bishop Of Digne), Richard Todd Adams (Factory Foreman), Betsy Morgan (Fantine), Maya Jade Frank (Little Cosette), Juliana Simone (Young Eponine), Shawna M. Hamic (Madame Thenardier), Richard Vida (Thenardier), Ethan Paul Khusidman (Gavroche), Chasten Harmon (Eponine), Jenny Latimer (Cosette) Jeremy Hays (Enjolras), Justin Scott Brown (Marius).
Set Design: Matt Kinley, inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo
  Lighting Design: Paule Constable
  Costumes by Andreane Neofitou
  Additional costumes by Christine Rowland
  Original Orchestrations by John Cameron
  New Orchestrations by Chris Jahnke
  Additional orchestrations by Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker
  Musical Supervisor: Daniel Bowling
  Musical Director: Peter White
  Musical Staging by Michael Ashcroft
  Sound by Mick Potter
  Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes including intermission.
Kennedy Center, Washington, DC; 202-467-4600;   Tickets: ($45 to $155)
  Opened 9/28/11
  Ends 10/30/11
  Review by Susan Davidson based on 9/29/11 performance.

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Les Miserables
  • I disagree with the review of Les Miserables
  • The review made me eager to see
Visit Curtainup's Blog Annex
For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message
Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows-the complete set

You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company


©Copyright 2011, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from