Friday, October 25, 2013

BUT GOD ALMIGHTY, HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT'S HAPPENED SINCE?  There's a new production of Les Misérables coming to Broadway this spring (some casting news here). Since our longtime commenter Randy caught this production in Calgary, we've got a sneak peak.
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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.


  1. BarbL1149:28 AM

    It is Grantaire who collapses when Gavroche dies. I find Grantaire fascinating and usually spend my time analyzing his relationship with Enjolras when I see the show. (The movie won my heart when it included the book death of Grantaire and Enjolras.)

    Totally agree that the show loses power because we can only see the one side of the barricade.

  2. Thanks, Randy!

    I saw the Broadway production a couple of times in the 90s, so it's been a while. But I seem to recall that Eponine does get shot offstage, then she delivers the letter, then Marius sees that she's hurt. So either way, that staging wouldn't surprise me. In fact, (if it happened that way), I remember it being powerful, that Eponine delivers the letter, and Marius is asking Eponine about Cosette, not even realizing that she's hurt and struggled through it to deliver his letter.

  3. I was trying to remember exactly how Eponine's shooting unfolded in the other productions I'd seen - and of course my memory is now further clouded by the movie. Wikipedia simply states "Éponine is shot by the soldiers as she returns to the barricades and collapses into Marius' arms", which isn't particularly helpful. :)

  4. Christy in Philly11:36 AM

    I saw the old Broadway production at least three times and traveling productions a few. I will definitely be seeing this as well. I also think that a holiday or summer run with Lea Michele as Eponine is inevitable and I will surely be seeing it then, even if I have already seen it (my sisters are huge fans of Ramin Karimloo so I know we will be seeing it when it opens).

  5. Genevieve5:16 PM

    Eponine is definitely shot offstage in every production I've seen (including the original pre-Broadway DC production). In the book, she pushes Marius out of the way of a shot, but that's not in the lyrics or stage directions of the show at all. You hear "There's a boy climbing the barricade!", Eponine appears, and Marius and the audience realize at the same time (a few lines in) that she's hurt.
    I don't think in the rotating barricade productions that you see Eponine get shot on the other side of the barricade (though my memory isn't 100% sure on that) before she climbs over -- I'm pretty sure you don't, because she climbs over right after Javert is unmasked as a spy and Enjolras says to take him away because there's work for them to do.
    I've seen non-revolving versions and been very happy with them, but I do like it when you can see Gavroche at the top of the barricade when he's shot, so it's not offstage.
    (Not an obsessive, but I was in a local production this year so I'm very familiar with the script; also saw it a ton a few years ago when my son played Gavroche [a character well-liked by me] locally, and he's playing Feuilly this year in the school edition. The production he was in didn't have a revolving barricade, but Gavroche climbed up the barricade to a high point elsewhere on the stage that was effectively "on the other side" but still visible to the audience for the death, and it worked really well.)

  6. Genevieve5:23 PM

    Oh, I partly agree with you on Marius casting, but I think Enjolras has to be more vibrant because he's the one with the charisma that makes him a natural leader. He's the one with the burning passion for justice/revolution, and he's the one who inspires everyone to follow him to the end.
    In the book, Marius isn't even really part of the revolution until he learns Cosette is leaving, and then he figures he may as well die that way.
    That doesn't mean I like milquetoast Mariuses, though I wouldn't characterize Eddie Redmayne that way and thought he was quite good.

  7. Becca5:41 PM

    This sounds similar to the touring version I saw a couple of years ago. There were more video screens and I don't think the set rotated, but I can't remember. They had a much smaller cast, and the entire show simply wasn't as emotionally charged as usual. I don't really remember it that well as a result.