* * *As you may know, LES MISERABLES is returning to Broadway next year, in a much-hyped new production. A staging of this production recently opened to rave reviews in Toronto, and a touring production recently passed through Calgary, where I saw it. A bit of context: I'm a big fan of the original show, having seen two productions in Canada (in Halifax in 1994 and Toronto in 2005). And the soundtrack has been in relatively high rotation for me for two decades now. So I'm quite familiar with the original production, but not an obsessive who's seen it twenty times.
And, of course, here be spoilers.
The notable difference between the original production and this new one is the lack of a rotating stage. The original production's rotating stage was used to great effect, especially in the scenes at the barricades in Act 2. Because the stage no longer rotates, we spend the entire battle with the students, behind the barricades. For me, this created a couple of moments of unintentional hilarity. First, Gavroche's death. I know he's not exactly a beloved (or even particularly liked) character, but his death scene in the original production was powerful, as he gets shot when scampers over the barricades to try to retrieve some ammunition for the students. The same thing happens in the new production - but because we're with the students, Gavroche actually DIES OFFSTAGE. We hear him sing a few lines of "Little People", then BAM! Shot dead! The students react dramatically, of course - especially (I think) Grantaire, who collapsed - but the staging just struck me as a bit funny.
Second, and related, is the death of Eponine. In the original production, Eponine saves Marius (by pushing him out of the way of a policeman's shot, right?) but ends up getting shot herself. They sing "A Little Fall of Rain"; she dies, we bawl, the show goes on. Here - and I SWEAR this is how it unfolded, I don't think I missed anything - Eponine delivers Marius's letter to Cosette and returns to the barricades. She tells Marius she delivered the letter, he thanks her, then he notices a red spot on her shirt, she collapses, they sing, she dies. Eponine GOT SHOT OFFSTAGE.
These changes were pretty much unavoidable without the rotating stage. I'm not sure how many people in the audience had seen the original production – they all seemed to enjoy this version. The story is still strong, and the score and songs are still amazing. I just can't help but think something is lost in the new production.
Another selling point of this new production is the use of video screens. The production incorporates some original drawings by Victor Hugo as background images in a number of scenes - notably, Valjean's escape through the sewers. It was... ok. I generally think that use of video screens in a stage production is lazy shorthand, and I don't particularly think they added anything here. (Though they're very nice drawings.)
Since casting and interpretation of roles varies so much from production to production, I won't really say much about the actors. But I will say it annoys me that they keep casting such wimps as Marius. Especially when compared to how vibrant, how alive, the actors who play Enjolras generally are. Even in the movie: Aaron Tveit was so much more dynamic than Eddie Redmayne it's almost unfair to compare them. And let's not even get started on that London production with a fricking JONAS BROTHER as Marius.
There were a some nice touches in this production - the staging of "Turning" and "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" was particularly effective. But I'll be curious to see how the show plays on Broadway next year, and how longtime fans of the show will respond to it.