REVIEW: Les Misérables

19 12 2012

Les Miserables“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent,” wrote Victor Hugo in his novel “Les Misérables.”  Though his work has found expression in a number of different mediums since its publication in 1862, none has captured the public’s imagination quite like Claude-Michel Schönberg’s musical.  It took the spirit of Hugo’s classic novel and put it on stage to powerful effect with an operatic score and poetic lyrics.

The endearing place “Les Misérables” holds in contemporary musical theatre is due to the supremacy of the music, featuring showstopper after showstopper that tug on the heartstrings and open the floodgates of the tear ducts.  I’ll go ahead and declare my lack of objectivity since I was fortunate enough to be a member of a production of “Les Misérables” in high school.  Watching the show from the audience is an ethereal experience, but living with that show for several weeks and being a part of conveying that show’s magic to an audience made it a truly spiritual experience for me.

However, theater does have its limitations.  Using terminology from cinematic camera proxemics, the audience is locked in perpetual longshot, forced to view the action from a distance.  Though the immediacy of the performer is felt, we see only broad strokes of emotion.  So for “Les Misérables” on stage, the potency must come across through the notes of the music, putting the emphasis on execution of the orchestra and the voices of the performers.

Yet these complex and well-written roles are a goldmine for actors, offering them chances to explore rich internal worlds and manifest them through beautiful song.  On stage, we are overcome by spectacle and score, so much so that we can lose the depth of the characters that build the colossus that is Hugo’s novel.  If the stage actor chooses to build in nuances in facial and body movement into their performance, it would be mainly for them alone as most in the auditorium would only be able to discern larger, grander motions.

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