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3/27/14

Les Miserables - In Which Ramin Karimloo Takes Broadway By Storm

For years, I have been tantalized by the lack of Ramin Karimloo on the east coast. Sure, I was lucky enough to catch a concert or two and that put me ahead of the curve, I suppose. But now that we have him on Broadway as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables - a role and a show worthy of his talents - I hope he never leaves.

Ramin's performance is a wonder to behold - like Audra McDonald, Mark Rylance, Norbert Leo Butz-levels of amazeballs - and he’s the most prevalent reason why you should see this revival, back again at the Imperial Theater where it debuted some 27 years ago. By the time he finishes Valjean’s “Soliloquy" - which even with all the scene changes and characters coming and going, it really is no more then Karimloo center stage with a spotlight on him, singing his balls off to the audience - I was left with goosebumps and a shivering spine. His. Voice.

No really, HIS. VOICE. It’s like three Valjeans for the price of one whenever Ramin starts singing. You have his talk-singing “natural” voice (if you could call that “natural"), his leading-man beltastic, roof-crashing voice (FUCK YES!!!!!) and his falsetto-ish, high note that is .4 octaves away from “dogs only” territory. It’s that last one that seals the deal - his “Bring Him Home” is simply GOR-GEOUS as his sings so effortlessly in his upper register, hitting notes not yet existing on a scale. The audience last night seems to agree, erupting into a rapturous applause over arguably one of the most subdued songs on the Les Miserables track list.

If your audience does not erupt into a rapturous applause, it’s broken and you should have it fixed. Immediately. So flawless is Karimloo, I have no idea how the rest of the company shares the stage with him every night - if it were me up there (at the barricade!), I’d be left in the rubble behind him, questioning my career and life choices.

But if you can peel your eyes, ears and thoughts off of Karimloo for more then a second, you’ll realize that some of the cast is churning out some stunning portrayals as well. Will Swenson, in particular, is giving the performance of his career as Javert…and it's a nice bounce-back after his lousy portrayal of the father in Little Miss Sunshine this past fall. Swenson’s voice and imposing height alone make him a great casting choice, even if it wasn’t obvious to me at first. But if you read between the lines during the “Confrontation" number and Swenson’s great rendition of “Stars,” you’ll notice he’s enjoying the hell out of devouring the scenery in the name of JUSTICE!

Caissie Levy is a serviceable Fantine in another head-scratching casting choice. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” was on the verge of sounding shrill and haphazard, but she side-steps that and goes all out. I also really adored Kyle Scatliffe, a recent Olivier-nominee for his performance in The Scottsboro Boys, whom is naturally commanding and BAMF-ey as Enjolras. His take on the crowd-pleasing character is more PISSED. THE FUCK. OFF then anything…of course, I obviously loved that. I’d follow him into battle if I weren’t a pacifist. And Andy Mientus and Samantha Hill, as Marius and Cosette, neither succeed or fail. There are more interesting and/or awesome characters (and better performances) around them that their’s seem weaker by comparison, but their singing voices are lovely on “A Heart Full of Love.” As characters go though, Marius and Cosette’s “falling in love in four seconds” sub-plot will never not be unintentionally hilarious.

The only weak spots in the ensemble were Keala Settle and Nikki M. James. Ms. Settle starts off with a strong-willed, “tired of your shit" Madame Thenardier, but gets increasingly over-the-top and annoying by the show’s end. Tone it down, girlfriend; you are not Mama Rose. And poor Nikki, who gets an ‘A’ for effort, but you can’t unsee or unhear The Book of Mormon’s Nabulungi every time she is trying to bring out her inner-Eponine. There is reinterpreting the character and there is not evoking the character at all, and sadly, James’ performance is the latter. Her “On My Own” should have been the showstopper the song is, but it was oversung and Nabalungi’d to within an inch of its life. Poor thing…P.S, still love you Nikki!

The rest of Les Miserables is mostly well-executed. The costumes and set designs had me salivating in my chair with their instant appeal and detailing. James Powell’s and Laurence Connor’s direction is strongest when it came to the scene changes and pacing - just when you think they have run out of sets/graphic projections/dry ice, they have another 24,601 of them in the wings ready to take the stage. What’s so great about that is the transitions are a “blink and you miss it” sorta-deal, a nice contrast to the ostentatious, revolving turntable one associates with a previous Broadway incarnation. All of that helps keep the pace electric, the drama high and the excitement flowing.

Which isn’t to say the direction is always on point. Javert’s silly-looking, space-time-continuum death should never have reached the storyboard, let alone an actual stage where people would, like, actually see it. Stoners on a White Castle bender at 4:00 in the morning could concoct a better vision then that. And “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” was a little distracting with the cliche, “let’s overwhelm the stage with dead people” notion - Mientus was carrying the number perfectly fine.

But Les Miserables knows why you show up and why you would want to show up again even if you are feeling kind of "over it." Because if done even semi-well, it delivers a full-on theatrical, epic experience. Fortunately, this production is that great enough to silence the, “it’s too soon” club (whom I was a member of when the revival was announced last spring/summer). During the curtain call, I became ‘that’ patron fist-pumping in the air, waving my imaginary red flag and screaming out, “FREEDOM.” Because natural instincts and I was feeling riveted.

But seriously, we should just hand the Tony over to Ramin Karimloo right now. Might as well get it over with.


Ticket Provided By the Production


Photo Credit: Les Miserables on Broadway

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, I foresee a Tony nomination for Ramin and I think he has an excellent chance of walking away with it. He deserves it.

Lynne Rutherford said...

Thank you for publishing the thoughts of many who have followed Ramin because of his power, passion, voice and leave us not forget - his looks and talent! Thank you!