Aaron Walpole, Andy Mientus, Ben Gunderson, Betsy Morgan, Broadway, Caissie Levy, Cameron Mackintosh, Claude-Michel Schonberg, erin clemons, Jason Forbach, John Brink, John Rapson, keala settle, Les Miserables, Max Quinlan, Nathaniel Hackman, Rachel Rincione, Ramin Karimloo, Samantha Hill, Weston Wells Olson, Will Swenson
Since several people have been asking me about the first preview of Les Miserables, I thought I would try to put into words last night’s experience. To say I was eagerly anticipating this moment doesn’t really cover it. I first saw Les Mis 21 years ago, and I’ve been a devoted fan since I was five. Despite having seen the show 59 times over more than 20 years, last night, my 60th, was the first time I had the good fortune of seeing Les Mis on Broadway.
After getting to the theatre extremely early to take in every moment of the experience, I ended up being the first patron in the Imperial to see the new production. Once many of the seats were filled, I noticed a few familiar faces in the back, including Cameron Mackintosh and Claude-Michel Schonberg. Thankfully, they were very generous with the show’s fans, and I, like so many others, cherished the opportunity to meet the men behind my favorite musical. Another incredible surprise: a front row seat. I thought I was second row, but some adjustments to the theatre’s layout worked to my benefit last night.
As the “Prologue” began, the crowd roared with applause. This was a frequent occurrence all evening, particularly after key songs, cast entrances, and set reveals. Every person in the theatre last night was thrilled to be there. I’ve never been a part of such an energetic, attentive, and encouraging audience.
As for the cast, Ramin Karimloo didn’t miss a beat. Having seen him several times before, including as Jean Valjean in Toronto, I knew what he could do. With each performance, his take on the character grows. I am convinced he’ll be a contender for the Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award, and he already has my vote (not that it counts!). Interestingly, four years ago I saw him in Love Never Dies, and while he was superb, only two people, including myself, waited for him at the stage door. Let’s just say that will not be the case on Broadway. Even if you don’t know who he is now, you won’t forget him after hearing his beautiful renditions of “What Have I Done”, “Who Am I”, and “Bring Him Home”.
Some people were surprised to learn Will Swenson would be Javert on Broadway, but I was not one of them. I was convinced he was an excellent choice, and he proved himself to be more than worthy last night. This may not be the “Stars” you’re used to, but the show has been thriving for nearly three decades, and his fresh take on the character is enticing. I was lucky to be almost in the action for many of Jean Valjean’s and Javert’s interactions, and his expressions were brilliant. This is a great role for Swenson, who is better known for more contemporary musicals. I wouldn’t be surprised if he scores a Tony nomination.
Then, there’s Caissie Levy as Fantine. What a voice she has! Her facial expressions throughout her short performance were touching. Moreover, Levy and Samantha Hill (Cosette) may be the closest to looking like a real Mother-Daughter duo that I’ve ever seen. I recall thinking that she may just be able to snag Best Supporting Actress in a Musical.
Additionally, I was thrilled to see Andy Mientus as Marius. For such a talented performer, it’s about time he graces The Great White Way. While I think he has room to grow in this role, I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. Marius is an incredibly important character to me. There is a very detailed chapter in the book regarding this character, and I feel like Mientus captured what Hugo envisioned. His performance conveyed Marius’s struggle between the love of his life and his loyalty to his friends. Moreover, his performance developed as the show went on, and I imagine he will win over more than Cosette’s and Eponine’s heart as the run progresses. There was one key change I noticed to his character, in terms of direction, and I loved it. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it, but I suspect other fans will notice the change as long as it’s kept in the show.
As for the rest of the cast, I am impressed. Having seen many of them before on tour or in Toronto, I knew I would be. I went in with high expectations and was not disappointed. Samantha Hill’s Cosette was lovely, and Keala Settle’s Madame Thenardier was the perfect mixture of a villain and comedian. The children were well suited for their roles and certainly charmed the audience. I was particularly pleased to see Betsy Morgan in the show again, and I loved that she played the Factory Girl taunting Fantine after a well-received run as Fantine on tour. Other familiar faces from the recent national tour include Jason Forbach, John Rapson, Nathaniel Hackman, Max Quinlan, Erin Clemons, and Aaron Walpole along with swings Ben Gunderson, Rachel Rincione, John Brink, and Weston Wells Olson. If you have an understudy, don’t fret because the supporting cast and swings are more than qualified to fill the big shoes of the leads.
Clearly, Les Miserables is a story that has staying power. So, why does the show evolve? I’m not sure, but I trust the producers and creatives because whatever they’re doing has kept the show alive this long. Are there new lyrics? Yes, well, if you didn’t catch the recent incarnation in Toronto, yes. Is that staging different? It’s mostly what you would have seen on the recent tour, but some of the set and directions have been adapted to better fit the Imperial Theatre and cast. Is the show better than the movie? Do I have to answer this? Live theatre has no comparison to film.
The musical is epic, and its’ themes of love, hope, and redemption have connected with audiences all over the world. Last night, I saw Les Mis for the 60th time, and I suspect no performance will ever compare. Finally back on Broadway, I had the opportunity to watch the first performance of this new version with many other devoted fans and the people who made the show what it is today. Even though I already had seven more tickets to see Les Mis, both on Broadway and in the West End, I immediately bought two more tickets to this new production as soon as I got home. I doubt this show is going anywhere anytime soon, and as a “superfan”, I am grateful. The new production soars, especially with one of the strongest Jean Valjeans I have ever seen.