Theater Review: Les Misérables at the Pantages Theatre

05_LM_TOUR_One Day More - Photo Matthew Murphy
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Les Misérables, arguably one of the most iconic and well-known musicals in theater history, is back at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Cameron Mackintosh’s production was conceived in 2009 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the epic tale and played over 1000 performances on Broadway beginning in 2014. Incorporating new scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, this iteration features a slightly pared-down staging that does not include the turntable the show has often been known for.

02_LM_TOUR_0371_Josh Davis and Nick Cartell
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Based on Hugo’s novel of the same name with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and original French-language lyrics by Alain Boublil (who was in attendance on opening night in Los Angeles) and Jean-Marc Natel, Les Misérables tells a story that spans nearly twenty years, set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. At its center is the cat-and-mouse game between Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell), an ex-con who escapes parole to start a new life, and Javert (Josh Davis), a ruthless police inspector. Eager to atone for the sins of his past, Valjean befriends Fantine (Mary Kate Moore), a dying prostitute who has been defeated by poverty, promising to care for her daughter, Cosette (Jillian Butler). He rescues Cosette from the care of the evil Thénardier (J. Anthony Crane) and Madame Thénardier (Allison Guinn), who have treated her as a servant while doting on their own daughter, Éponine (Paige Smallwood). Nine years later, Cosette and Éponine cross paths again when they are both in love with the same man, Marius (Joshua Grosso), but the first stirs of revolution in Paris quickly threaten to tear everyone apart.

04_LM_TOUR_1488_Master of the House
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

In the history of this musical, so many iconic performers have sung these songs, which certainly creates a perhaps unfair level of expectation for any cast to meet. As Valjean, Cartell starts out leaning too far into melodrama as Valjean escapes custody, but thankfully finds subtlety as the character evolves, culminating in a gorgeous rendition of “Bring Him Home” that received the loudest ovation of the night. The chemistry with Javert felt lacking in this version, though, with their dynamic sometimes getting lost in the shuffle. Davis’s appropriately menacing performance and impressive voice are ultimately one-note, making the character’s final moments, which are not helped by the most cringeworthy staging choice of the night, fall flat. Moore’s “I Dreamed a Dream” was not amongst my favorite renditions of the classic song, but acting-wise she left a better impression, especially considering the character disappears for about 2 hours of the show.

16_LM_TOUR_1539_Joshua Grosso_Phoenix Best_Jillian Butler
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

The love triangle is tricky—it is a challenge not to roll your eyes as Marius and Cosette fall in love at first sight, and as relatable as it may be, it is hard to watch Éponine moon over a man who obliviously sends her to run his errands and locate another woman he desires more on his behalf. For this to work at all, you really need to buy into the performances, and Grosso in particular did this well by making Marius very awkwardly endearing. When he literally chokes on his own first words to Cosette, it makes the ridiculous situation feel a bit more believable and sympathetic. Cosette has always been more of a plot device than a three-dimensional person, but Butler has a lovely soprano, and Smallwood sang a very convincing “On My Own,” with the audience seemingly in the palm of her hand. Crane and Guinn are total scene-stealers as the wicked Thénardiers, with Guinn in particular using terrific comedic timing to make the most of every moment, and Parker Dzuba was simply adorable as young, tragic Gavroche.

03_LM_TOUR_2385_Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

It is impossible not to miss the turntable in watching this staging, directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell. A stationary barricade is a bit less fun and dynamic, and requires more imagination during the battle scenes. Occasionally, projections (Fifty-Nine Productions) are used to create the effect of movement, particularly as Valjean carries an ailing Marius home through the tunnels of Paris. While this is moderately effective, it is so modern that it feels slightly incongruous with the sweeping 1800s-set story. And, as previously mentioned, the staging of Javert’s final number is a large misstep that comes across as over-the-top and unconvincing all at once.

13_LM_TOUR_4054_Allison Guinn as Madame Thenardier
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

The real star of Les Misérables is its beautiful sung-through score, full of recurring medleys and complicated counterpoint. From “Master of the House” to “One Day More,” nearly every song is catchy and recognizable, not to mention affecting, especially when performed by the large ensemble and orchestra. This aspect is enough to overcome any shortcomings of the production, and from the audience reactions on opening night, you would think this show was a buzzy new hit rather than something most seasoned theater fans have probably seen many times.

Les Misérables runs at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through June 2nd. The running time is 2 hours and 55 minutes, including an intermission. Tickets start at $49 and can be purchased here. After Los Angeles, the tour will play Colorado Springs, Sioux Falls, Forth Worth, and Chicago, among other cities. For information about those dates and to purchase tickets for other cities, click here.

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6 thoughts on “Theater Review: Les Misérables at the Pantages Theatre

  1. I saw this tour on November 5th, 2017. I saw it at the gorgeous Peace Center, which does have incredible acoustics.

    Nick Cartell’s strongest moment was “Bring Him Home”- making him one of my standouts.

    The love triangle took me by surprise- I always expect Eponine to be the strongest actor, but that didn’t happen. Marius was my strongest actor- I was surprised by Joshua Grosso’s Marius- he was the strongest actor in the love triangle- he was a charming and awkward Marius- he made that character almost a core favorite character.

    If I continue to go through actor by actor- it might take a while

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  2. Ok, let me begin by saying that i saw the production with Colm Wilkinson about 30 years ago and I was left with many tears in my eyes at that time (yes, i am now a 60 year old man with a theatre education background, and proud to admit that I cried to many songs in this musical). My soon to be 17 year old daughter (who wants to go to college to study musical theatre to be a professional actress — omg no, you will be waiting tables for so long!) and I saw the Pantages production last night in Los Angeles, and those tears came back “one day more”. Yes Erin, it is an unfair level of expectation for any cast to match the original cast, but this was a good … really, really good performance. The very long and emotional standing ovation at the end of the performance confirmed “job very well done to all”, and the original cast would have been proud. Anyone in Los Angeles who wants to see musical theatre at its very best better hurry before this one gets away!

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  3. I also saw this show with the original Broadway cast. Twice. I saw Both Broadway revivals and some 20 plus times on top of that at various theaters from Florida to San Francisco. I’ll start with the first problem that I have never experienced at a performance of les mis. The sound was atrocious. I was in the 3rd row center. Gavroche was completely drowned out by the orchestra and the vocals sounded overly tin and poorly amplified. The music didn’t overwhelm you in scope either. The first chords of the score didn’t silence the theater or demand attention. Whoever set up the sound should have been replaced a long time ago.

    The multiple phallic references were overdone and no longer subtle but more like a plot device from Saturday night live. The repeated breaking of the 4th wall doesn’t work well in a show like this. That is for modern audiences that need things spelled out. This isn’t Rocky horror and the added camp was stupid and distracting. As for the songs. The score was rushed. The singing and tempo was too fast and rushed. Enjolas looks outrageously foolish and out of character with long blonde hair and the actor was neither a presence on stage, didn’t have a commanding voice, and had the energy of a waxing catatonic. Valjean has a great voice and yet the show became too operatic. His songs were “technically” great but had little real passion relying instead on melodrama.

    The most compelling disaster was the confrontation. The final lyrics Valjean sings to fantine, NOT Javert. The fight seems were silly and much of the staging seemed to belong more in a high school production.

    I have to say this was the worst production overall I have ever seen of this show. I took my brother who never saw it, paid far too much for the tickets and if I had to do it again. I would have passed. There is much more but there is no point. This is it the same show that started on Broadway. If you e only seen this you haven’t seen les mis. In fact I’m usually not picky at all and I understand that this is not the original production but this misses the spirit of the show.

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  4. I have seen the show three times prior, including twice in London. With the exception of maybe three or four songs, it was awful. Sound was terrible, singing was awful in several spots, lighting was not right. And what was the deal putting in that absolutely ridiculous final wedding scene with the couple trying to steal silverware replete with useless original song. It just wasn’t funny and it was not the time to try and squeeze in one final joke. And what was that third Closette they tried to stick in? In my opinion it was a very, very poor attempt at trying to modernize it. I’ve been to the theater a 100 times and last night was the first time I walked out before the curtain call.

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    1. Agree on almost everything you said except for a couple of things. No songs were added. The “wedding song” has been in the show since the first production on broadway as was the stealing of the silverware. I’ve never seen a production without those scenes including the original broadway cast with Colm Wilkinson. The Song was just not executed well. I don’t hate the restaging and have seen this staging both in the previous tour following the revival with Ramin as Valjean. It worked on Broadway, It worked in San Francisco, It DIDN’T work here. I have seen the original cast twice, The first revival which was miscast, and second revival with the racial quota casting. I have seen various touring companies more times than I can count and was lucky enough to have been brought backstage with a bunch of adolescents I worked with by Valjean himself back in the 90’s. I know this show backwards and forwards. It is my favorite show. My disappointment with this production was palpable.

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