From the moment that it was announced that Les Miserables would return to Broadway, speculation was rife as to who would be cast as Jean Valjean. Following his amazing success as Valjean in the 25th anniversary concert at the 02, many fans of the show were keen to see Alfie Boe cast. Social media was awash with fans showing the love for Alfie in this role, even after Alfie told fans that he was officially finished with Les Mis. Indeed, this continued, in a lesser vein right up until it was announced that Ramin Karimloo would play the role. Ramin had already played the role to great acclaim in London and Toronto and it was generally felt that he was a good choice. In addition, he played a fabulous Enjolras in the 25th annviersary concert at the 02 in London (click here).
Roberta Kappus, a fellow Alfie fan, saw the Broadway Les Mis last month and kindly consented to review it (beware, there are spoilers so don’t read if you don’t want to know!):
I saw Les Mis a week after opening night and again last week and I did not want it to end. It is wonderful and Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean is wonderful. Both the show and Karimloo received high praise from the critics and both totally deserved it. As I write this Karimloo has been nominated for Best Actor and Les Mis for Best Musical Revival by both the Drama League and the Tony (US Olivers) Awards.
From the beginning you know you are not going to be seeing the production currently running at the Queen’s theatre or the last production on Broadway. The prisoners are on benches with oars. This is perhaps a nod to the original work and/or to the movie. And, the turntable is gone. This is a great improvement. The cast moves more freely and naturally throughout the performance. There is a new orchestration which I did not notice at the time as I was too engrossed in the performance. It was only later at home listening to the original score that I realized some movements were missing or had been changed.
To me the most obvious change with this new production was the physicality involved in a number of the scenes. The Confrontation is no longer a scene with Valjean and Javert feigning threatening actions. Instead the fighting with realistic punches and wrestling moves results in one or the other of the actors being thrown to the stage floor with neither missing a beat of the song. It is amazing that they are not totally out of breath just from the fighting. At the barricade, Valjean and Javert do not just spar verbally but physically as well. At one point Javert is slammed against a theatre wall at the front of the stage by Valjean. The physicality is not confined to the principals but appears a few other times throughout the production. Because of the intensity of the fighting and to prevent injuries there is a “fight call” before every performance where safety precautions are reviewed with the cast.
Another of the changes in the staging that I thought was very effective was the scene following the sewer escape where the chorus sings “Did You See Them Going Off to Fight.” The stage is darkened and each member of the chorus carries a candle in a jar onto the stage. When the song is finished the candles are left on the stage. Marius comes out and begins “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”, the students and Gavroche appear. As the students and Gavroche leave the stage each takes a candle. It comes across as a very emotional scene.
What is important is that the story flows, the music seems to be as I remembered it and the singing especially by Ramin Karimloo is excellent, stunning, more than outstanding. While Mr. Karimloo is probably better known to the readers of this blog, it is Mr. Swenson who is better known by the New York audiences for his performances in Hair and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Mr. Karimloo is considered a Broadway rookie. However, that did not dampen the critics’ enthusiasm for his opening night performance. It was called “sterling” by the New York Times which further noted that the highlight of the performance and the production was Mr. Karimloo’s rendition of Bring Him Home. Another critic wrote that Karimloo’s singing of Bring Him Home brought the production to a higher level. I can only agree. Karimloo was incredible and deserves all the praise he has received. Prior to this I had only seen Karimloo at a club in New York performing Broadgrass – his term for a combination of Broadway and blue grass – which does not prepare you for his performance here. I have to admit that I was totally blown away by Karimloo’s performance in Les Mis. As a side note, it was not only the singing that some of the NY reviews appreciated. Mr. Karimloo has been working out in preparation for the role and has developed a fine set of abs. This led to the headline “Brawny ballad singer Ramin Karimloo leading Les Miz”.
Of the rest of the cast, there was no one who did not perform well. Cliff Saunders as Thenardier does deserve mention. I thought he was the best Thenardier I have seen. (I did not see Matt Lucas live in this role.) He also played the role in the Canadian production. He brings a slightly different twist to the part. I spoke to him at the stage door after one of the performances and he said that he had not seen Les Mis when he got the role and deliberately did not see it after so that he could bring his own interpretation to the role.
Les Mis on Broadway is an incredible experience. Ramin Karimloo is absolutely outstanding as Jean Valjean. His performance is breathtaking. Will Swenson is excellent as Javert. If you are going to be in New York this is well worth seeing. I know I will be seeing it again.
A fabulous review from Roberta! As a side note, Roberta also mentioned that at the two performances she attended the whole cast including little Cosette and Gavroche came out, signed autographs, posed for pictures and thanked people for coming. Ramin has also be doing a video blog for fans, or a vlog, take a look at the first one:
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