Thursday, October 03, 2002

'Les Miz' production a sure crowd-pleaser


Theater review

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Les Miz fans are going to be very happy with the national tour that continues through Sunday at the Aronoff Center.

        Sung like a dream and layered with wells of conviction, this tour is a crowd-pleaser led by Randal Keith as Jean Valjean, the heroic ex-convict relentlessly pursued by fanatical Inspector Javert (Joseph Mahowald).

        Victor Hugo wrote one of the great yarns of world literature in Les Miserables. Miserables, indeed. In the first third of 19th century France, life was a pesthole for all but the upper classes.

        Jean Valjean becomes a marked man (literally — his prison number is tattooed on his chest) for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family.

        Despite 20 years in a chain gang, his soul is redeemed by one kind act and he spends the next 10 years as a near-saint. Still Javert remains obsessed with bringing him to justice for breaking parole.

        Mr. Keith and Mr. Mahowald are a good match dramatically, and face off beautifully when they cross paths again and again.

        Mr. Keith, built like a boxer, is easy to believe as Valjean. And when he sings, you can believe the angels are on his side.

        What adventures Valjean has: after inadvertently destroying the life of factory worker Fantine (an impressive Jayne Patterson), he commits himself to raising her child Cosette (Amanda Huddleston).

        A decade later, Cosette falls in love with student revolutionary Marius, pleasingly embodied by Stephen Brian Patterson. He and his compatriots, led by Dallyn Vail Bayles, make a stirring chorus, and the anthem “One Day More” all but pulls you out of your seat.

        So for love of his adopted daughter, Valjean finds himself in the middle of another lost cause.

        Michael Hayward-Jones as slimy Thenardier and Jodi Capeless (delicious as his slattern of a wife) provide criminally comic relief.

        When the principal players all convene in Paris in 1832, almost 20 years after the drama begins, the Thenardiers' daughter Eponine (Jessica Snow-Wilson) is also in love with Marius. Ms. Snow-Wilson makes a proper tomboy, but there's a little too much echo of American Idol in her singing.

        Looking back on the long line of high-tech Brit musicals that overran Broadway in the '80s, I'll trade you all the chandeliers, helicopters, roller skates and floating mansions for one turntable and a set of barricades.

        No matter how often you see it, the scenic design continues to powerfully impact Les Miz, keeping the action flowing — credit here, too, to the ensemble — and the drama high.

        Les Miserables, through Oct. 6, Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati, Aronoff Center Procter & Gamble Hall, 241-7469.

        E-mail jdemaline@enquirer.com

       

       



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