The splendid production of “Les Misérables,” which opened to a. sold out crowd Thursday night at the Fulton, should make the legion of “Les Mis” fans out there quite happy.
The show sounds glorious, looks gorgeous and has a great big heart beating at its center. And all the melodrama and revolutionary fervor is there too.
This production is huge, with 51 people in the cast and a larger than usual orchestra of 11 musicians led by musical director and conductor Aaron M. McAllister. They sound terrific.
The wonderful costumes, designed by Beth Dunkelberger, are lavish when they should be and threadbare when they need to be; the set, designed by Robert Klingelhoefer, is impressive and easily fluid and atmospheric, and the lighting design, by Paul Black, is a strong presence throughout the show.
And the cast is stunning. The voices, particularly the male voices, will send shivers down your spine.
“Les Misérables” is based on a book by French writer Victor Hugo about Jean Valjean, who spends 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread in order to feed his sister’s hungry son.
Upon his release, Valjean must decide to live his life in darkness and bitterness, or to love and be redeemed.
Thanks to a kindly bishop, he chooses the latter and truly becomes a good man, even raising Cosette, the daughter of one of his factory employees, Fantine, who dies under tragic circumstances.
But he is tormented by guilt as police officer Javert pursues him relentlessly.
The Fulton staged “Les Mis” five years ago and it was a resounding production, with plenty of fine voices.
My memory is not sharp enough to say this is better, but it feels richer and more lived in, which is a good thing.
And the larger cast gives many scenes more drama, especially the battle scenes on the barricades.
Gregg Goodbrod is returning to the role of Valjean and he is, once again, fantastic. This man has a voice! And his Valjean has more soul, more depth this time around.
Jeremiah James is Javert. He too has a strong voice, but he seems less omnipresent and threatening than Javert did five years ago. Perhaps it is the way it’s staged?
Blake Stadnik is Marius, who falls deeply in love with Cosette the minute he sees her. Steve Czarnecki is his friend Enjolras, who draws the students into the cause with great charisma.
Grace Anne Field is lovely as Cosette and her voice is beautifully operatic. She can convey her great love for both Marius and Valjean without saying much.
Gina Santare is a young, impassioned Éponine, who is in love with Marius, though he does not return that love. Her rendition of “On My Own” will do exactly what it is designed to do — break your heart.
Alas, Fantine’s song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” does not do what it is designed to do. Hanley Smith’s rendition is strangely uninspiring and her Fantine is rather forgettable.
Also returning from five years ago are John Reeger and Paula Scrofano, who are once again a devilish delight as the Thénardiers, the dishonest innkeepers who take the young Cosette in when Fantine can no longer take care of her, using her as forced labor and constantly upping their demands for money.
Their “Master of the House” was quite fun.
Sophie Miller Reusswig as the young Cosette, knocks “Castle on a Cloud” out of the park, and not in that brassy “Can you believe I am a kid!” way. She truly interprets the song.
I suspect the reason “Les Misérables” is so beloved by so many people is because it so dramatically wears its heart on its sleeve in a number of terrific, hook-laden songs. It is one of those rare more modern shows where you leave the theater humming the songs.
And when you hear this cast of 51 singing the anthem-like “Do You Heart the People Sing,” or Marius singing the heartbreaking “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” after all his friends have died, or Valjean’s plea to God, “Bring Him Home,” you can’t help but be moved by it all.
Kudos to director Marc Robin for bringing a fantastic cast together and making the show shine.
“Les Misérables” is running through July 13 at the Fulton.