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The restaged Les Miserables U.S. Tour is delighting audiences in Orange County, California, at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts where it is playing through October 1, 2023.
Die hard fans of Les Miserables since it’s English language debut in 1985 (5 years after it’s French language debut in 1980) tend to be purists and often debate over everything from the necessity of a turntable for the stage and whether the dramatic cuts to the libretto (and re-additions) were/are necessary. So how does the new staging compare to the original?
While nothing will ever compare to the original staging and script, it’s with admiration and respect that this reviewer has to admit how impressed I was at press night at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on September 20, 2023, for the following 3 reasons:
Nick Cartell is an Exemplary Jean Valjean
As a Mizzie (Les Miserables fan), I have probably seen the show in the United States and the United Kingdom twenty times, at least, so the bar is quite high when reviewing any performance. It is impossible not to go into a theater thinking of performances I’ve seen over the years including from John Owen-Jones, Randal Keith, Dan Koek, and Ivan Rutherford. And while I was initially hesitant regarding my initial impressions about Nick Cartell‘s performance, by the time he came to “Soliloquy” (following the Prologue), I was sold.
Nick Cartell effortlessly anchors the Les Miserables U.S. Tour that is sailing through Orange County, California, through the end of September 2023. His rendition of “Bring Him Home” deservedly so earned him an enthusiastic round of applause. However it’s not the big power notes that won this fan over. Where he truly excels is in his chemistry with Steve Czarnecki (Javert Understudy) and their confrontations were the strongest moments of the night, hands down.
In fact, their confrontation scene following “Come to Me” was a highlight and provided the highest testament to the new direction by Laurence Connor and James Powell (Trevor Nunn directed the original English production). Gone is the chair that Valjean once used as a makeshift weapon. Making use of Valjean and Javert’s chain gang background, Javert now wields a chain and the directors get points for the imagery.
His chemistry with Addie Morales (Cosette) was another beautiful highlight throughout the show that spoke well of the show’s updated direction. In particular during the Finale a small but touching embrace between Cosette and Valjean most likely had a few eyes misting with joy and pleasure.
Overall, his performance was a definite delight and would be well worth the price of the ticket for any musical theater fan. And it is a credit to the casting team at Tara Rubin Casting that he is surrounded and supported by a strong ensemble of actors and singers.
Paule Constable and Matt Kinley Create Magic with their Combined Lighting and Set Design
Paule Constable, known for the 25th anniversary concert of Les Mis at the O2 in London, England, works wonders with his lighting design bringing a further intimacy to the beloved Boublil and Schonberg musical (the same creators who brought us Miss Saigon). In combination with the architecturally strong set design by Matt Kinley that replaces the famous minimalistic turntable, the effect is sublime. In fact, I would argue that Paule Constable’s lighting design is reason enough to buy tickets to see this reimagined Les Miserables while it tours the United States.
Finn Ross Proves Projections Can Be Worth Every Penny Spent
Projections have become a fad in theater often used even when not necessary. Thankfully Finn Ross (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), credited in the playbill for his Projection Realization, is clever and wise enough to know just how best to use projections to support and benefit a timeless show such as Les Miserables.
Paired with Paule Constable’s lighting and Matt Kinley’s sets, Finn Ross’ projections prove their worth during the second act of the Les Miserables U.S. Tour. Javert’s Soliloquy and the scenes set within the Paris sewers are brilliantly enhanced as a result of the projections that do nothing to detract from the importance of the music and performances.
Thanks to the clever and talented artistry of Nick Cartell and his colleagues, Paule Constable, Matt Kinley, and Finn Ross, the Les Miserables U.S. Tour is a must-see during its run in Costa Mesa, California.
Les Miserables U.S. Tour in Orange County
Tickets: Starting at $40
Dates: Through October 1, 2023
September 28th: Patrons attending the performance on Thursday, September 28th at 7:30pm are welcome to join us for a free talkback/Q&A with Les Misérables cast and company members. The talkback will take place after the performance on the Orchestra level and will last approximately 15 minutes.
Next Up: Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations (October 17-29, 2023)
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