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THEATER REVIEW: “Les Misérables” gets a remake for 25th anniversary tour

If you think you know “Les Misérables,” the towering musical (really an opera; there is no spoken dialogue) that ran for 16 years on Broadway, get thee down to the Civic Theatre for the 25th anniversary tour version of the beloved show.

Love, friendship, loyalty and revolution take center stage in this melodramatic morality tale covering a 20-year time span beginning with Waterloo. Full of colorful characters and ethical dilemmas, it’s a great plot for an opera – or a musical.

Directors Laurence Connor and James Powell have given it a major makeover, one that emphasizes flash and spectacular, jaw-dropping technical stagecraft without losing any of the poignance of that classic story.

The well-known turntable is out, replaced by enormous Broadway-sized sets designed by Matt Kinley and punched up by fabulous projections inspired by Victor Hugo’s own paintings of Paris. The orchestra has been scaled back, with fewer strings and more percussion. This is a more visceral production, i.e. you’ll see more fisticuffs than you may have remembered. In a word, this production looks great.

The plot, adapted from Victor Hugo’s sprawling epic novel, is a sort of cat-and-mouse game between Valjean (Peter Lockyer), just sprung from prison after serving 19 years for stealing bread to feed his sister’s child, and police inspector Javert (Andrew Varela), who wants Valjean back in jail in the worst way.

Valjean, who must carry his yellow “ticket-of-leave” marking him as an ex-con, is stymied in his attempt to find a job. When Valjean steals silver from the first person willing to take him in, Javert thinks he’s triumphed.

Foiled by the victim, who claims to have given the stuff to Valjean, Javert continues to stalk his prey throughout. But something has changed in Valjean: he’s come to realize the importance of kindness and generosity, and displays these changes in his dealings with the poor, the hungry, the whores who must sell their bodies to make a living, and the student revolutionaries who want his support.

This production also boasts a boffo cast, headed by “Les Mis” veteran Lockyer’s sturdy and eminently listenable Valjean (he played Marius in the 10th anniversary production) and Andrew Varela’s fine Javert (he played Valjean last time around). But talent is evident throughout this large cast: Betsy Morgan’s Fantine, Lauren Wiley’s Cosette, Briana Carlson-Goodman’s Éponine, Max Quinlan’s Marius are all top-drawer. Even the kids in the cast – Little Cosette (Erin Cearlock), Gavroche (Marcus D’Angelo) and Young Éponine (Hannah Isabel Bautista) are terrific.

“Les Misérables” is bigger than most musicals in every way – size, scope, subject matter, difficulty and technical demands. It needs – and deserves – the best of everything, and this 25th anniversary production gets it.

The details

“Les Misérables” plays through Sept. 2 at San Diego Civic Theatre, 3rd and B Streets, downtown.

Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm.

For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 888-937-8995.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.