Spectacle that it is and audacious in its wringing of emotions, Les Miserables is not a Broadway show you’d ever call intimate. Whether it’s the battle of wills between Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert or the tensions and violence of the Paris Uprising, Les Miz is theater on an epic scale. So what a wondrous treat to experience the current production at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.
Directed by Robert Smyth with musical direction by G. Scott Lacy, Lamb’s’ production of Claude-Michel Shonberg and Alain Boublil’s nearly 30-year-old theatrical warhorse manages to personalize the characters and the conflicts without sacrificing any of the show’s stature. The fact that it’s unfolding in a 350-seat theater in which for some the actors are practically within reach accounts for some of the intimacy. But Smyth, along with scenic designer Mike Buckley, lighting designer Nathan Peirson and sound designer Patrick Duffy, have conceived a Les Miserables that immerses audience members in the story rather than reducing theme to observers from afar, as can be the case at the cavernous Pantages in Hollywood or even the Civic Theatre in downtown San Diego.
The barricades backdrop on stage – barrels, boxes, overturned chairs, et. al. – looks like Grandma’s attic gone wild, but it works so well here as a discreet seating area for the top-notch orchestra and, in some sequences, for the actors’ movements.
None moves, or performs, any better than Brandon Joel Maier, whose redemption-seeking Jean Valjean has to be the highlight so far of this talented actor’s blossoming career. The dependable Randall Dodge is a worthy adversary as Javert, and Neil Dale and Deborah Gilmour Smyth sparkle wickedly as the innkeepers Thenardier.
You know the story. You remember many of Les Miz’s numbers: the rhythmic “Look Down,” the mischievious “Master of the House,” the Act 1-closing “One Day More,” and Valjean’s “Bring Him Home,” which Maier sings with heart-rending plaintiveness. And in the Lamb’s space, the song of salvation, “Take My Hand,” could not be more tender.
Lamb’s’ ambitious production pumps rich, reinvigorating life into a show that, even deservedly so, has been done to death. It might even make you a Francophile.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat