I’ve loved Les Miserables for thirty years, ever since a friend first introduced me to the original London cast album. I played it over and over, learn all the parts by heart. It touched my soul in a deep way, reaching every part of me and bring out every emotion. I’ve never gotten over it. I saw it in 1990 in San Francisco. I saw it in Seattle in the early 2000’s. I saw it this past July in Denver. I have the original London cast CD, the complete symphonic recording, the tenth anniversary concert album and DVD, the twenty-fifth anniversary concert DVD, and the 2012 movie DVD and CD. All I can say is that excepting only the original London cast, the one that first stole my heart, all the other pale next to the 2018 National Touring cast!
I could attend Les Miz every year and never get tired of it. When I first saw it live, at the finale when they sang, “Will you join in our crusade, who will be strong and stand with me?”, I was ready to get up and go, biting my tongue to keep from screaming out, “Me, Me, I’ll go, I’ll go!” Les Miz has affected me that way every time. I still cry. I still get chills at the finale. I still want to scream that I’ll go and want to jump up and join them at the barricades. So, I was thrilled when I heard it was coming to Denver this summer.
I invited my friend and her daughter, and we made an evening of it. We had dinner at the Limelight café in the theatre complex. We stopped at the customer service counter to pick up my braille program. We took our seats in the orchestra level, and I could barely contain my anticipation. I was not disappointed. I was in awe, blown away, stirred even more than ever before. When it was over, I only wished I could sit right back down and watch the whole thing again, and again, and again.
The cast. What can I say about this cast? How can I express how incredible they were? Nick Cartell was the most amazing Valjean I have ever heard. His passion and emotion, his way of singing softly, then belting, giving us the exact right sound for whatever he was singing. He wrang emotion out of me, emotion I thought Les Miz couldn’t reach anymore, because I thought every previous viewing or listening had gotten it all. When he sang “Bring Him Home”, I was spellbound, not even sure I breathed, during the whole thing! I have to admit, that particular song has never been a favorite of mine. Audiences usually love it and cheer it, but my attitude has so often been ho-hum, is it over. Until now. I was on the edge of my seat, listening for the slightest note, weeping as he cried out Valjean’s desperate plea. That song will never be ho-hum to me again. That’s just one example of all the ways he drew new feelings, new chills, new joy and grief from me.
Then there was Josh Davis, as Javert. I’ve always found Javert an interesting complex character, but in some ways, his big numbers have never really thrilled me. Josh Davis blew the roof off those feelings. Compelling and powerful, his performance made me feel things I’d never felt during the Javert scenes before. I felt sorry for this rigid man who could not understand mercy and forgiveness, and I cried at his suicide for all the depth of life this character missed.
The chemistry between those two characters, Valjean and Javert had me on the edge of my seat every time they were together in a scene. They clicked, for lack of a more flowery way to express it. Two powerful characters, played by two incredible performers. Their scenes sizzled and popped. I could believe in them, in their animosity, Javert’s quest and pursuit of Valjean; Valjean’s efforts always to outwit Javert; the eventual mercy of Valjean and the inability to accept of Javert.
Joshua Grosso as Marius was a pleasant surprise. I’ve never really liked any of the guys who’ve played Marius since Michael ball. Nobody else seemed to express the first innocence of and then the grief of this character. Nobody had the anguish to compete with Michael ball’s rendition of “Empty chairs at Empty tables”> I wasn’t expecting to feel any differently this time, but that was okay with me. I’d already been so engrossed in the other performances, if Marius wasn’t the best, I could live with it. Well, here was another person who took me to places I’d never been with this show, who made me feel that grief and pain all over again. I thought of the loved ones in my life who have died, and I wanted to cry out with Marius against the grief. It was just brilliant!
Jillian Butler played Cosette. This was another role that hasn’t thrilled me much since the original cast. I never thought anyone sounded great up on the high notes, or they didn’t blend well with whoever was playing Marius. But there she was, another one who took all my low expectations and blew them away. She was beautiful. My friend who had also seen Les Miz before said the same thing. She was the best Cosette I’d ever heard. She captured that sense of young love, of longing for more than what she had, but searching for something different. Her scenes with Marius made my heart ache from the beauty of their harmony. Another one who left me breathless.
Emily Bautista was a passionate, perfect Eponine. When she sang “On my Own” I just wanted to hug her and tell her it would be okay. She grabbed my heartstrings from the start and never let go. I could imagine her pain, how he’d had such a miserable life, and this one boy was the only person who had shown her kindness. Her death scene left me in tears.
Mary Kate Moore as Fantine. What can I say? I feel I’ve used every superlative there is. Fantine’s story has always broken my heart, and the same thing happened this time. She breathed new life into her scenes, causing me to feel all the sorrow again, aching for this girl who had been so mistreated by so many. Tears were pouring down my face as she sang “I dreamed a Dream”>
I really could go on and on. As I flip through my braille program, I could think of things to say about every scene, every character, every moment. The ensemble was fantastic; the orchestra was exceptional; all the parts together were beyond extraordinary. Just thinking about the experience, my heart is beating a little faster, my soul is aching a little more. I only wish there could be a cast album, but there’s never cast albums of national tours. I wish there could be a DVD, so I could play it over and over. I’d never get enough, and I’d share it with everyone I know.
For thirty years, Les Miserables has been my favorite musical, and this cast showed me again why I love it so much. They brought my love of this show to new heights. I salute them all for their hard work and their wonderful portrayals of these iconic characters, their beautiful takes on these great songs. How I wish I could see it again!
Oh yes, and if you’re wondering, at the end, during the finale, after I pulled myself together following Valjean’s death, when they sang, “will you join in our crusade, who will be strong and stand with me?” Yeah, I had to grasp the arms of my chair, hold myself back, bite my tone, in order to keep myself from jumping up and screaming, “I will, I will! I’ll join the crusade!”