The Imperial Theater
249 West 45th Street
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Price range $20 - $80
Potomac Stages Broadway
The producers of Les Mis have announced that they will close the show after 16 years on Broadway, but they set the closing date nearly six months ahead to give theatergoers plenty of time to come see the show live on Broadway either for the first time or for one last time. It is already the longest running show currently playing on Broadway and, when it closes with 6,617 performances under its belt, it will be the second longest running musical in Broadway history, bettered only by Cats which was produced, directed and designed by the very same team.
Storyline: The central plot of Victor Hugo’s massive novel of France between 1815 and 1832 has been streamlined to cover the story of a prisoner set free after serving time for stealing a loaf of bread. He assumes a new identity, raises to wealth and position and takes on the role of guardian for the young daughter of one of his employees. She grows into a young woman and falls in love with a student involved in the revolution who, with her guardian’s secret help, survives the slaughter of the revolutionaries on the barricades.
There is a reason this show has been the success that it has not only on Broadway but around the world (almost $2 billion in sales from nearly 40 million customers). The reason is the quality control exercised by Cameron Mackintosh’s production company, the single production company responsible for all versions. The high standards for the production gave its combination of stirring music, eye-filling staging, strong characterizations and well told story every opportunity to work its magic at every performance. Mackintosh even closed the show down a few years ago (bringing in the US touring company to keep the "continuous performance" record going) while he re-cast, refurbished costumes and sets and even tightened up the book a bit.
The performance given the night before the posting of the closing announcement had a bit of the feeling of being routine, almost as if the cast was going through the motions except in the moments of highest drama or greatest musical beauty. But those moments of drama and beauty were great indeed, as even a less than perfect performance of this material can be a stirring experience. And there were highlights aplenty. J. Mark McVey starred and delivered an impassioned "Bring Him Home." Philip Hernandez has developed a take on the role of the police officer who tracks the hero down which is different from that followed by others who have played it, giving fresh meanings to both "Stars" and his soliloquy. By far the highest highlights, however, came in the scenes Diana Kaarina played as the daughter of thieves who is secretly in love with the same revolutionary student who loves the hero’s ward. Her "On My Own" was as fresh, touching and simply lovely as the song was when it first was heard from the stage of our own Kennedy Center during its pre-Broadway tryout back in 1987.
The mounting of the show remains just as impressive as ever, with John Napier’s indispensable turntable floor allowing such fluid staging that one of the most complicated plots any Broadway show ever had is communicated clearly and cleanly. The show has spectacle as well as intimate moments of emotion and high comedy. It is worth one final visit before the curtain comes down on this run. But, then, Mackintosh has said it will continue to run in other cities and to tour. Indeed, the US national touring version will return to DC’s National Theater this winter.
By Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg with Jean-Marc Natel contributing to the original French text and additional material by James Fenton. Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. Directed and adapted by Trevor Nunn and John Caird. Current music direction by Jason Howland. Design: John Napier (set) Andreane Neofitou (costumes) David Hersey (lights) Andrew Bruce/Autograph (sound). Cast: J. Mark McVey, Philip Hernandez, Diana Kaarina, Jacquelyn Pior, Nick Wyman, Aymee Garcia, Kevin Kern, Christopher Mark Peterson, Sandra Turley, James Kuklinski.