Review: Dream a dream at Mirvish’s ‘Les Misérables’

Latest production a stellar version of classic musical

What: Les Misérables
Where: Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. W.
When: Now, until Sat., June 1
Highlight: Victor Hugo’s paintings engulf audience into world with projections
Rating: NNNNN (out of 5)
Why you should go: Beloved musical continues to stand the test of time.

I’M SURE many in the audience at Mirvish’s Les Misérables have dreamed a dream about sitting in this audience. The room buzzes with excitement as the first chords of this nearly three-hour epic reverberate through the Princess of Wales Theatre.

This 25th anniversary touring production of Les Misérables, produced by Cameron Mackintosh, comes back to Toronto much to the delight of audiences (with a nearly sold-out run already). With the same staging as the 2013 production in Toronto that came before, this new cast certainly does this acclaimed production justice.

This story spans 15 years with many twists and turns but, at its core, follows the good-hearted ex-convict Jean Valjean and his path to clearing his name and soul. Political unrest, class struggle and 19th century France set the backdrop to this story, ultimately culminating in the June Rebellion of Paris with the iconic Les Mis barricade.

There is plenty of love, loss and injustice in this beloved tale; and this musical certainly continues to stand the test of time. Claude-Michel Schonberg’s revised book and music drive the audience through this epic at a perfect pace, delving into tragic characters while keeping sight of the big picture; artful ballads balance out ensemble showstoppers in harmony. The same can be said about the elegant work of veteran directors James Powell and Laurence Connor, perfectly weaving revolutionaries, young love and the struggle for freedom, together keeping up the pace of the piece and never letting energy falter through dynamic blocking. As an audience member, you get beautifully overwhelmed through all the action on stage provided by Powell and Connor, journeying from numbers such as the slimy innkeeper and his patrons buzzing about in the hilarious Master of the House to the iconic Act I conclusion of One Day More as the people march the streets in perfect unison while waving that blood-red flag.

Ensemble performances range from equally gritty and pitiful prostitutes to the golden bourgeoise. They are dynamic and entertaining, making the big showstopping numbers absolutely live up to their names. There were definite standouts in terms of individual performances. Delaney Guyer as Cosette is plucked straight from a Disney fairy tale — her voice is enchanting. Preston Truman Boyd as Javert brings the house down with sweepingly powerful vocals showcased in the mighty Stars. Mya Rena Hunter as Eponine delivers quiet and dignified suffering. Nick Cartell brings an undeniable soft emotional grounding to Valjean — his falsetto is gorgeous. Valjean’s iconic song Who Am I left a bit to be desired though with Cartell’s vocals not quite filling up the Princess of Wales Theatre.

One of the most distinctive features of this iteration of Les Misérables is the use of projections: as you walk in, you can see one of Victor Hugo’s paintings projected onto the backdrop of the stage; Town of Dusk sets a sombre blue tone. The rest of the musical unfolds with paintings in similar styles as this moving and swirling in the background. It’s like Hugo’s world is plucked from his brain and placed onto the Toronto stage.

Though this production has projections, it doesn’t just have projections. Jaw-dropping set dressings appear seamlessly from scene to scene as the stage transforms through time and space from the grungy sewers beneath Paris to a ballroom. The projections in the style of Hugo’s art provide an aesthetic background but, paired with the intricate and beautiful set, it really sinks the audience into the world of Jean Valjean. Every single second of this production is an exquisite visual feast that moves along at a consistent pace thanks to designers and directors alike.

There is no production of Les Mis without a barricade reveal … and oh, this production delivers. Just as Hunter’s heart-wrenching take of On My Own concludes, the barricade emerges from the shadow, eliciting gasps from the audience. What is most striking is not just the size and detail of this set piece but how beams of light are used to portray gunshots on the young men.

Though the visuals of the fight at the barricade were stunning, some of the closer hand-to-hand combat fell flat. The fight choreography was a half-dance, half-realist blend but doesn’t quite make a firm decision either way, resulting in varying levels of believability and execution of fights.

Despite its (minor) faults, there’s a reason why this iteration of Les Misérables has graced the Toronto stage seven times over: it’s spectacular. Direction, choreography, costumes, lighting, music and performances ooze together in a perfect blend of theatrical excellence. By the end, this beautiful proscenium theatre is filled with sniffles from the audience.

Overwhelmingly, Mirvish’s Les Misérables is high-calibre, emotionally charged theatre and expertly delivers this beautiful epic that still resonates with audiences.