Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Few shows have the enduring appeal and recognition of Les Miserables. And while the historical setting may seem disconnected from modern life, the heartbeat of humanity that thrums within it is all too familiar. Bursting with a tapestry of human emotion, the Broadway across Canada presentation of Les Miserables brings the classic musical to life.

The story of Jean Valjean begins as a slave. Having stolen a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child, he is imprisoned for 19 years before being released by the justice-obsessed lawman, Javert. But while Javert continues to hunt him as a convict, Valjean shows himself to be a near-saintly figure; saving the life of a man beneath an oxcart, raising the child of a former employee after her wrongful dismissal leads to an early death, and joining the revolution to save the life of his step-daughter’s suitor. In the end, both Javert and Valjean must re-evaluate the grey area between what is legal and what is moral.

This production is a cacophony of colour and emotion. Nick Cartell’s Jean Valjean is tortured yet taut like a violin string, with a voice that effortlessly cascades between impossible highs and heart-rending lows. His rendition of “Bring Him Home” is a show stopping lesson in emotional simplicity, the technical mastery disappearing into the devastating sincerity of a parent’s desire for their child’s future.

Allison Guinn and J Anthony Crane steal every scene as the clownishly desperate Thenardiers, while Emily Bautista’s Eponine carries the youthful soul of the show with her spunky physicality. But it is Josh Davis’ Javert that looms large. With whip quick movements and the precision of a tactician, he breathes the control of the conflicted villain into every step he takes.

J Anthony Crane as Thenardier and company in Les Miserables. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
J Anthony Crane as Thenardier and the company of Les Miserables. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Kaitlyn Barrett’s wardrobe is period specific in a drab mix of muted browns, blues, and whites that clash beautifully against the fierce red of the revolutionaries’ flag. The looming walls of the rotating sets provide a cacophony of levels and light that breathes fresh life into the dank air of the festering French cities of Les Miserables.

Laim McIlwain’s direction is traditional and sure. You can’t get more Les Mis than this. If you’re looking to see the classic musical in all its over-the-top glory, this is it.

Les Miserables, based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg with Lyrics by Herbert kretzmer. Directed by Laim McIlwain. Presented by Broadway Across Canada. On stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (630 Hamilton St, Vancouver) until July 15. Visit broadwayacrosscanada.ca for tickets and information.