Shrinking one of the behemoths of musical theater into a space the size of the Arkansas Repertory Theater’s main stage had to be no easy task for director Robert Hupp, but he succeeded beyond my wildest expectations during this weekend’s premiere of “Les Miserables.”
The casting, costuming and ingenious staging are definitely worth the ticket price.
The third-longest-running show in Broadway history, “Les Miserables” is noteworthy for the size of its cast and the lavishness of its production design, worthy of a story of such sweeping scope.
The musical follows ex-convict Jean Valjean over the length of his life as he tries to hide from the law and live honorably. He’s interrupted by tragedy, revolution and the constant presence of Javert, an obsessed policeman.
The Rep’s production stretches all the available space in the theater. The result is a story that is much more heartfelt and exciting than it might have been in a larger space. The ensemble breaks past the stage and into the audience during numbers like “Do You Hear the Sound,” bringing the passion of the group so close it feels like sitting in the center of an angry French Mob.
The acting outshone most of the singing Friday night. Douglas Webster played Jean Valjean with a palpable desperation and angst. Christopher Carl infuses his Javert with just the right amount of righteous indignation. One of the best performances was by Mike Accardo, who played Innkeeper Thenardier with a deliciously creepy sliminess. Shelby Kirby portrayed the street urchin Gavroche with a maturity and feeling that is often beyond the reach of older actors. I completely believed Chris Newell as the love struck Marius. The quality of his expression and the mastery of his timing was one of the most moving moments in the production. Nina Sturtz, who plays Thenardier’s daughter Eponine, has an exquisite voice.
The costumes and staging are standouts. The detailing on Cosette’s black dress is gorgeous. The set itself is an interesting mixture of permanent and moveable set pieces that resemble collapsing warehouses, complete with grimy windows. The lighting director uses an ingenious trick to represent the Paris sewer.
“Les Miserables” runs through mid-October.