Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What's La Difference?

"The purists are going to kill us," Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer told the Washington Post, about the Signature Theater's staging of the much-beloved musical Les Miserables, which opened last night in Arlington. Well, that depends on how pure those purists are. Sure, the (ahem) signature turntable is gone, as are the moving barricades. Yet, this Miz is closer to the original production than Schaeffer suggests: the cast is still huge, with 28 members performing each night; the show features a full Broadway orchestra; and none of the original material has been cut. Essentially, this is the Broadway production's oval peg, pounded into the Signature Theater's round hole: it fits, if a bit awkwardly.

Les Miserables is performed in a Black Box style theater, which means the stage is in the center of the room, with the audience surrounding it. This allows for an up-close and intimate experience for the 280 people watching the show, but it also can be a source of confusion; sometimes, during full-cast scenes, it was hard to pick out who was singing. The set design was minimalistic, except for a twisted-metal barricade upstage (which plays a central role in the show's second half). The set reminded me of the trash sculpture from Rent, sans the thrashing and shimmying twentysomethings. Oh, and for some inexplicable reason, chairs were hung on ropes from the ceiling. Whatever.

The cast was, for the most part, wonderful. Their full-cast numbers were Broadway caliber. Greg Stone's Jean Valjean was adequate, but nowhere near Colm Wikinson's grand portrayal. Tom Zemon's Javert, on the other hand, stole the show. (Both were reprising their roles from Broadway.) The show's Achilles' heel was Felicia Curry, whose Eponine fell flat (and whose pitch occasionally did the same.)

Overall, this did not feel like a regional troupe's stab at a Big Broadway Behemoth; it felt like the Behemoth itself, just a bit smaller.