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Theater Review: “Les Misérables"

“Les Misérables” plays through June 3, 2018, at San Diego Civic Theatre, 3rd and B Streets, downtown.
Photo credit:
Matthew Murphy

“Les Misérables,” Boublil and Schönberg’s sprawling pop opera based on Victor Hugo’s equally sprawling novel of love, disappointment, heroism, sacrifice, and revolution in 19th-century France, plays through Sunday at San Diego Civic Theatre.

If you’ve never seen it – or if you’ve seen it multiple times – don’t hesitate to see Cameron Mackintosh’s latest version, which offers English lyrics by Herbert Kletzmer, projections of Victor Hugo’s paintings as background, new staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt and new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker, along with the familiar great songs, fine voices and a story that touches everyone.

The centerpiece of the show is Jean Valjean (Steve Czarnecki), being released after 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. A kindly bishop’s act of mercy inspires him to make huge life changes, but police inspector Javert (Josh Davis) is intent on seeing Valjean back in prison and spends the rest of the show trying to make that happen.

Some years later, Valjean has become a wealthy factory owner. One of his workers is single mom Fantine (Mary Kate Moore), whose daughter is being raised by the Thénardiers – loud and loutish innkeepers – while Fantine works. Fantine loses her job after a sexual harassment incident and is driven to prostitution. She will eventually get sick and die, but before she does Valjean promises to find and take care of her daughter Little Cosette (Sophie Knapp). Valjean finds Cosette, buys her from the Thénardiers (Allison Guinn, J Anthony Crane), and a few years later she has become a lovely young woman (Jillian Butler).

Meanwhile, revolution is in the air, because Gen. Lamarque, the lone person in the government with mercy for the poor, is near death. So we will watch Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker) and Marius (Joshua Grosso) rally the students. This will not end well, but you’ll be pulling for them anyway.

And you’ll cheer when Grosso’s wonderful Marius gets together with Butler’s lovely and charming Cosette,

This production looks quite dark – fitting, given the mostly serious subject matter – but the plot is touching, the characters engaging, the music great and conductor Brian Eads’ 14-piece orchestra strong.

Czarnecki and Davis are convincing actors as the central adversaries Valjean and Davis and fine singers to boot. Have a tissue handy when Valjean sings “Bring Him Home.”

Guinn and Crane both amuse and revolt as the crude and despicable but often funny Thénardiers.

“Les Misérables” has it all – dreamers risking it all for a better tomorrow, young lovers, kindness and brutality, all wrapped up in a terrific score and fine performances.

There’s not much more you can ask.

The details

“Les Misérables” plays through June 3, 2018, at San Diego Civic Theatre, 3rd and B Streets, downtown.

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm.; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm.

Tickets: (619) 570-1100 or broadwaysd.com