Tuesday 1 March saw the first night of John Owen-Jones as Jean Valjean in Broadway’s Les Mis. As with the first nights of the previous incumbents of the role, our intrepid New York reporter, Roberta Kappus was there and I’m thrilled to bring you her review:
Years of experience on the stage were in evidence as John Owen-Jones took over the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway. From an unrepentant convict to a dying old man, John Owen-Jones gave a masterful performance conveying feelings and emotions flawlessly. By a shrug of a shoulder or an added inflection on a word John changed the focus of a scene. From the beginning his skills were apparent.
On his first day of freedom when Valjean drinks from a stream you can see and feel his sensation of release and satisfaction at the cool taste of the water. He pauses and savours both the freedom and the water and lets you feel it with him. Most impressive was Who Am I. John doesn’t just struggle with the question of turning himself in as another has been mistakenly identified as JVJ but conveys the life and death consequences of his decision and includes the audience in the process. The closest I could come to this portrayal was seeing JVJ as an attorney who strongly believes in his client’s case and the audience is his jury. He strides back and forth across the front of the stage facing the audience, stretching out his arms as though to embrace the audience. It is very effective and as an audience member you feel involved.
Another striking element in his performance is the aging of JVJ. This starts almost at the beginning when he rescues the man from the runaway cart. It is not an easy task and John is winded and out of breath following the rescue. It continues through his first scene in Paris where he is no longer strong enough to fend off the thugs. In his scenes at home with Cosette his shoulders are rounded and his stride is no longer as strong and sure as in the beginning. The aging continues through his final scene when he is truly a feeble, old man. After the show I went back and read the interview with John on this blog (click here). John described his interpretation of the aging exactly as he acted it. It was masterful and no doubt came from John’s years of experience.
Les Mis is a show that is sung throughout and John does not disappoint. I almost feel as though I do not have to say anything about his singing since he is so well known through his albums and YouTube. He was excellent and his singing appeared to be effortless. Throughout he changed the impact of a line in a song by an added inflection on a word. His Bring Him Home was not only sung but also acted. His hands were clasped in prayer as he pleaded with God. He directed God’s gaze to Marius as though God was a presence on the stage. The acting definitely strengthened the emotional impact of the song.
I have been fortunate enough to see three Jean Valjeans over the last few months – Ramin Karimloo, Alfie Boe and John Owen-Jones. Each brings his own interpretation to the role and emphasises his strengths. Each makes Les Mis his own story and each has been worth seeing. If you have the chance, you should see John Owen-Jones in the role.
Yet another fabulous review, Roberta – thank you. As it has been your privilege to see these three performers, it has been my pleasure and privilege to publish such gifted reviews from you.
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