Les Misérables is Advanced Theatre

The Seasoned Production Sets the Standard

December 2, 2019
Les Misérables Broadway
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I wonder if there is such a thing as "Advanced Theatre."
I can assure you, that is exactly what Les Misérables was. The crowd favorite which has captivated audiences across the world for decades- whether in movie or Broadway- made its way to Pittsburgh where it inspired a standing ovation on its opening night.

From the set pieces to the performance and even props, everything about Les Misérables was next level. Real fire was used and loud gun fire as well as strong lighting, which audience members were warned about prior to the show. The set value is inestimable when looking at the finished product. The set pieces were intricate, extraordinary- wagons filled with weaponry, streetlamps, high staircases, elevated apartment buildings, battle forts, romantic balconies, and projected sewer scenes against the back screen of the stage. It could all be easily described in one word- meticulous.

Now what certainly took me by surprise as someone who had never witnessed the production or storyline beforehand- was the opera style the performance embraced.
Every bit of dialogue was sang instead of spoken. The cast was chosen based on talent and skill rather than physical appearance.
This was evident once young Cozette- a brown skinned, black haired biracial young girl- transformed into a fair skinned, orange haired young lady in her teenage years.

And might I note, on the record of advanced theatre, even the extras could have been strong leads with the power and beauty of their voices. As we began the first act, we were introduced to the heinous prison our lead was then a slave in. As each of the tormented inmates opened their mouth to sing of the misery of their existence in the penitentiary, voices that made you wonder what Broadway play they will be the lead in next overflowed the room. Bravo to those gentleman and Tara Rubin Casting- excellently done.

Now, since I brought up young Cozette, allow me to say- truly, it was the children that stole the show. Young Cozette, played by Annabel Cole/Mackenzie Mercer was an absolute treasure. Not only was she perfectly adorable, but her confidence, voice and presence were unendingly captivating. Stavros Koumbaros, who played Joly- the other lead child- was thrillingly hilarious and brought more command and authority of our attention than any seasoned and twice over trained adult of that stage. He was certainly one of the crowd favorites of the show.

In addition to Joly, the Innkeeper and his wife, played by Monte J. Howell and Olivia Dei Cicchi were also crowd favorites. Their devil may care attitudes, nonchalant approach to crime, devious routines and absolute disdain for one another brought tears to the audience's eyes in laughter and brought them to their feet at the show's end. They provided beautiful comedic relief from all the misery surrounding the plot. The wife herself was much akin to Ms. Hannigan of Annie and the evil stepmother of Cinderella- evil, criminal, childish, and sarcastic. She was a delight.

Much like the cast of the Inn, the ladies of the Brothel in the first act were priceless. The scene was filled with indignance- a middle finger to society, its regiment and expectations of femininity. The ladies were strong. They danced provocatively and unabashed; their lyrics were rebellious and their attitudes were defiant. It was an exhilarating moment. They knew who they were and what they wanted. They knew how things went and weren't disillusioned by romance or naivety. They were technically the slums of society, but they ran their territory like royalty of a kingdom. They were the status quo, and they left an indelible mark. In the era of the Me Too movement, where women are speaking up and standing up, no longer lying down to the burdens of patriarchy, something about that particular scene spoke volumes and resounded in a way that went beyond a performance and empowered the women of the audience in their real lives. It was a beautiful contrast to the action happening to Cozette's mother at the time. She played a single, helpless yet absolutely determined mother, overcome with not only physical sickness, but the woes of being a woman in society. She tried her hardest to her last breath to protect and provide for her daughter but also played a damsel in distress simultaneously. While fighting until she could no more- giving up even her dignity to join the brothel, she also continually hit wall after wall, being unemployed, poor and not exiled from her former life. Ultimately, the Jean Valjean, our Mayor, released inmate and protagonist, became the knight in shining armor to pledge his undying loyalty to fulfill this damsel in distress's quest. He would swoop in, save the day, father the child and be the hero. Though admirable, the plot line of helpless women grows tiresome and dreadful. The boisterous recalcitrance of the brothel women was both liberating and difficult to watch, as they awaited no masculine hero dressed in chivalry and romance, but were still, in another way, taken advantage of and financed by men. Seeing Covette's mother succumb to such circumstances was admirable because of the cause but almost unendurable in its necessity due to the ways of society.

However, speaking of romance, the production was full rounded in plot lines. Their was the painful obstacles of each character and the overall time they were in (i.e war, sickness with lack of medicine, etc), the hilarity of the rejects of society, and also the aforementioned disillusionment and enchantment of romance. We followed an almost Romeo & Juliet feeling romance between older Cozette (Jillian Butler) and Marius (Joshua Grosso) with a painful love triangle addition Eponine played by the beautiful force that is Phoenix Best. The heartbreak was palpable, relatable and thereby- all the more crushing. The unrequited love of the ever present best friend, who is forced to help the love of her life connect with the apple of his eye instead of basking in his equivocated love herself. I felt myself tearing up as she sang outside the gates of Cozette's home, as Marius and Cozette made merry on the inside, symbolizing a union she would never have access to. Misery.

This was certainly one of the more sophisticated productions to hit the stage of the Benedum- perfected by age, evolved in time, power packed with the best of the best and packing an enormous infamy. The reality certainly lived up to the height. The only downfall was that some of the plot got lost in translation at times due to an inability to understand all of the lyrics. With such heavy accents, swinging chords in the vocals and at times, fast speech, it became hard to follow the action. Annunciation and articulation became muffled the further back in the theatre you were. Though one of the only issues, it was a rather big one.

Despite that, it was still enjoyable and still a spectacular experience. We tip our hats to the cast and crew of Les Misérables, who graced the Pittsburgh area for the beginning of our holiday season. May they continue to succumb to standing ovations across the nation.

Well done.