With abstract ideas and unique flares, the current world of art seems to be engulfed in contemporary styles. The stage, which unites art and humanity, often exemplifies many of these contrasting forms of expression. City streets are lines with black-box theaters, filled nightly with bizarre methods of theatrical performance. Likewise, theater troupes fill their seasons with the latest craze in scripted forms. However, among the new and sometimes brilliant encounters of art and stage, many classic plays and musicals remain strong and respected. A leading example of timeless art is the 1985 musical “Les Miserables,” based on the novel by Victor Hugo. This operatic musical lyrically weaves the tale of the French revolution, intertwining characters and themes braced with passion, hatred, family, friendship, society, death, and a constant struggle with life. On March 2, the Philadelphia Academy of Music opened their doors to the Broadway touring company of this historic tale. The Kimmel Center Theater is a breath-taking sight, even before the curtain rises. With four high balconies, and intricately engraved patterns along the walls and ceiling, the proscenium theater stylistically parallels the famed Broadway stages.
However, the visually impressive arena is just a hint at what the night of theatrical excellence entails. From the minute the curtain rises the stage is graced with a near flawless performance. The cast, which consists of nearly all Broadway repertoire actors, seems to have found their true callings among this union. Their energy throughout the vocally and physically challenging show remained outstanding.
Randall Keith leads the show as Jean Valjean, setting the pace and high standard of performance with his realistic portrayal. Keith holds an extensive resume of Broadway, national, and world tours, and was the understudy for the original Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson. The local opportunity to see such a respected actor with proven talent and vocal ability should not be disregarded.
Along with Keith, nearly all the actors gave top-notch performances. Stephen Tewksbury (Javert) took a quieter approach to the harsh official, forcing the audience to pay attention, and recognize a different side of the character. Likewise, David McDonald (Thenardier) also made some interesting choices as the obnoxious innkeeper. Whether it was a definite change or a calm night, McDonald seemed a little more subtle than usual. However, he, along with his wife Madame Thenardier (played by Cindy Benson) proved to be a crowd favorite.
The contrasting characters of Cosette (Amanda Huddleston) and Eponine (MaAnne Dionisio) worked perfectly in this performance. The two women were very much opposite in vocal style, and physicality, and yet they strongly supported each other on stage. “A Heart Full of Love” performed by these two women, along with Marius (Josh Young) was one of the most harmonious and melodically impressive songs performed. Each voice was solely powerful, and the blended sound of the trio was breathtaking.
Another powerful combination was that of Keith and Linda Pierson Huff (the Fantine understudy). The two had an undeniable chemistry onstage, and displayed realistic emotion in “Come To Me.”
The entire chorus also should be noted for their consistent involvement on stage. There was never a lack of energy or pride in each piece performed. The entire cast brought the house to their feet for the much-deserved final bow.
” Les Miserables” is an extremely difficult show to perform. It demands perfection in vocal ability, character physicalizations, and emotional recognition. The cast showcased in Philadelphia has truly succeeded in all accounts.