Cameron Mackintosh’s 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables is in its second year at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre, and viewing it leads to some ruminations.
In Les Miz, Jean Valjean’s (Ramin Karimloo) first savior is the priest, The Bishop of Digne (Adam Monley), who allows him to walk away with the household silver. This act of kindness transforms Jean Valjean from a convict to a man.
It is that man who must on his own continue on a path of righteousness, a path not always easily found.
The policeman, Javert (Earl Carpenter) sees everything in black or white. Those who were once convicted of a crime will always be criminals in his eyes. Like Captain Ahab, he hunts Jean Valjean — the one that got away; Javert pursues him for over 15 years.
Javert’s crime is stiff-mindedness; he does not believe that people can change.
Jean Valjean, in fact, reinvents himself from common thief to good citizen. He finds purpose for his wealth in saving Fantine’s (Erika Heningsen) daughter Cosette (Fabi Aguirre as the little girl) from a life of miserable drudgery. His debt to Fantine is that he ignored her plight when she toiled in his factory. In those days, he ignored the plight of all the women who worked for him. Now as Cosette’s “father,” he is redeemed through his care for her.
As Cosette grows (Samanatha Hill,) Jean Valjean’s life is more complicated. He joins Cosette’s lover, the young rich revolutionary student Marius (Chris McCarrell) on the barricades. Again, he saves just one soul from death, but, still, he does his part to help fight the corruption of the powerful against the poor.
The story based on Victor Hugo’s novel chronicles the period of unrest and rebellion, culminating in the Paris Uprising of 1832. Les Miz, the musical drama is faithful to Hugo’s epic tale.
“The Master of the House” offers us humor, aka comic relief, in the midst of all the despair. It portrays the striving and conniving of Thénardier (Gavin Lee) and his wife (Rachel Izen.) By the time they appear, we welcome the chance to have a laugh to set off all the gloom.
The Thénardiers’ is the other kind of corruption, that of the powerless against their fellows. Thénardier and his Madame run small criminal enterprises. They don’t object to being seen as loathesome; they are outsiders and outlaws and there is no revolution in them. Their zeal is for acquisition.
Thénardier and Madame Thénardier are characters writ large. Unlike Jean Valjean and even Javert, they do not change. On the other hand, even their daughter Éponine (Brennyn Lark,) once pampered by her ma (as the young girl, Lilyana Cornell), now grown up to be part of her father’s gang of street hoods, is converted by love. Éponine’s is a selfless love; she admires Marius so much that it brings her to a noble sacrifice. In Les Miz, only Thénardier and his Madame are unswerving in their comic evil.