Boston, MA

'Les Mis' continues to captivate after 16 years
By Robert Nesti
Saturday, November 8, 2003
The turntable swirls, the barricades rise and fall and the characters suffer ever so nobly.
Such is 'Les Miserables,' the enormously popular musical that recently closed on Broadway after a 16-year run, but lives on in its national company, which has taken up residence at the Colonial for five weeks. That many cast members wereteenagers when the musical first opened is only proof of its enduring appeal.
From the onset, some complained it trivializes its source - Victor Hugo's epic 19th century tale of struggle and redemption. But what its adaptors - composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricists Herbert Kretzmer and James Fenton (adapted from the French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel) - do extraordinarily well is condense the novel into a musical that remains as compelling as it was nearly two decades ago.
When its myriad characters converge in the streets of Paris, each singing a different melodic line at its first-act curtain, it's impossible not to be caught up in its fervor. And when the now-legendary turntable spins to reveal the bodies of the young student revolutionaries perched on the battlements, it is difficult not to be moved, especially these days.
Much of this has to do with its deftly integrated score, a synthesized mix of soaring ballads, revolutionary anthems and novelty numbers. Add to this the superb staging (by Trevor Nunn and John Caird) that gives the show a cinematic sweep, abetted by the turntable in John Napier's brilliant designs.
At the heart of the show is the cat-and-mouse chase between Jean Valjean and Javert, the police officer who relentlessly pursues him. In these roles are two solid performers: Randal Keith is superb as Valjean, bringing a rock-star charisma to the role, especially with his moving``Bring Him Home.'' And as Javert, the ably voiced James Clow matches him every step of the way, most notably with his powerful "Stars.''
In fact, there are strong voices all around: Tonya Dixon is a touching Fantine, Ma-Anne Dionisio belts effectively as Eponine, Josh Young sings with a beautiful tone as Marius and Cindy Benson and Michael Kostroff provide good comedy relief as the loathsome Thenardiers, to mention just a few in the outstanding ensemble.
( ``Les Miserables'' at the Colonial Theatre, Thursday night, through Dec. 7. )

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