Atlanta, GA

Last chance to catch Les Miserables at Fox Theater
By Charu Fadnavis
Contributing Writer
September 19, 2003
It is one of the all-time classics of literature, and finally Atlantans can have a full feast of Les Miserables at the Fox Theater.

The play is based on Victor Hugo's novel of the same title but, even without being fresh up on the book, I was able to follow the story, thanks mainly to the eloquent songs and amazing voices of the performers.

The acoustics of the theatre are impressive and enhance the experience of watching a Broadway show.
The music flows from scene to scene with barely a pause. One marvels at the musicians in the pit and their flawless synchronization with what is happening on stage.
The show is remarkably briskly paced and will keep you on your toes as you struggle to keep apace with it. And yet, for the crucial scenes, the tempo drops down and the audience is permitted to soak in the emotion and empathize with what is taking place.
It is inevitable that a theatrical adaptation will lose some of the richness of the book on which it is based. However, I found Les Miserables the Broadway show to be an absorbing and whole experience.
The visuals, songs and theatrical feel more than made up for any compromises with the content of the book or characterizations.
Besides, there is so much that is added to the narrative of the story by virtue of it being dramatized. The dramatization of Fantine's death, with white light bathing her death bed and her dying request to Valjean to take care of her daughter, left a lasting impression.
The story is set in France, amidst the turmoil of the French Revolution, and revolves around Jean Valjean, played by Randal Keith.
Valjean is imprisoned for 19 years of his life for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew.
The play opens with Valjean violating his parole and entering the life of a fugitive. His nemesis, Javert (James Clow), is a police inspector who considers it his duty to uphold the law and bring to justice those who flaunt it.
The relationship between the two is strange, convoluted and intriguing. The book covers it in much more depth, having better characterized both the defender of the law and the transgressor.
On stage you see both of them performing diametrically opposite things, both in the name of God. Javert is ultimately unable to reconcile the truth of his life with that of Valjean's and meets a tragic end.
Returning to the story, 19 years of cruelty and mistreatment have embittered Valjean and he has lost all faith in human kindness.
However, one deed of extraordinary kindness rekindles his good nature and he dedicates his life to helping those in need. Within eight years of starting his life anew, Valjean becomes a factory owner and mayor.
One of the women working at his factory, Fantine (Tonya Dixon), is harassed by Valjean's foreman and appeals to him for help.
Valjean doesn't hear her and unwittingly spurns her in her hour of need. Fantine, who has an illegitimate daughter, suffers a cruel fate and ultimately dies in Valjean's arms. He promises to care for Fantine's girl, Cossette, for the rest of his life.
What follows occupies most of the play. The production has a sprawling cast and, though it is sometimes difficult to keep track of them all, most of them do a competent job.
There is a curious mix of superficiality and depth to the show. Though you root for Valjean, the nuances of his personality are lost. However, this is admirably compensated by Randal Keith's spectacular performance.
The same goes for James Clow's portrayal of Javert. Some of the best songs of the show belong to Keith, Clow and Tonya Dixon.
The most realistic scenes are those from the uprising. The scenes depicting the night-long battle are very well executed. For this scene, the stage is transformed into a very convincing barricade with action shown from both sides of it.
Special mention must be made, at this point, of the unique ways in which the set design adds to this tale of sad souls.
Perhaps I have watched too many films and too few plays, but the startlingly different use of space in theatre is rather refreshing.
The way in which the barricade is managed and the people are shown traveling vast distances through a rolling stage just adds to the appeal of watching a live performance.
Overall I highly recommend attending the show. The music is great, the story is ambitious-in all, the show is rather good and time watching it is time well spent.
The show will be playing for the rest of this weekend at the Fox Theater off Peachtree Street.

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