Review: "High School Musical" can't compete with Les Misérables

Chasten Harmon, as Éponine, in the Orpheum Theatre's Les Miserables
Chasten Harmon plays Éponine in Les Misérables. All photos by Deen van Meer and courtesty of the Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Betsy Morgan performs as Fantine in Les Misérables
Betsy Morgan performs as Fantine in Les Misérables.
"Harmon’s performance had even the tough, middle-age man sitting next to me tearing up."

Les Misérables

Orpheum Theatre
910 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, Minn. 55403

Runs now until Dec. 18.

Cost:
Ticket prices range from $42-135. Those with a student ID can buy tickets two hours before each performance for $20; two tickets can be purchased per ID.

For more information call (612) 339-7007, or visit www.hennepintheatretrust.org.

To see a video preview of the musical, click here.

While waiting in line for the bathroom during the intermission of Les Misérables at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, I overheard a little girl complaining that the musical wasn’t as good as “High School Musical” or “Grease,” and she was right; the 25th anniversary production of Les Misérables isn’t as good as those shows. It was better, much better.

For more than 25 years, Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s musical adaptation of Les Misérables, which means “the miserable ones” in French, has been gracing stages all over the world. Even after all this time, Les Misérables remains magical and engaging.

The story, based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, centers around Jean Valjean, a peasant arrested for stealing bread for his starving sister. His life is shaped by being a “criminal” and continues to impact him and the lives of those around him decades after his crime.

The show spans the decades of Valjean’s life. This format creates the largest and arguably only flaw in Les Misérables. Because so many characters impact Valjean, their individual stories seem rushed, which is especially unfortunate considering how talented each cast member’s performance is.

J. Mark McVey heads the cast as Jean Valjean. McVey’s solid stage presence and strong voice makes him the perfect fit for such an iconic role. However, it is the ladies who steal the show.

Betsy Morgan, as Fantine, and Chasten Harmon, as Éponine, give the most impressive performances of the musical. Morgan is perfect when she sings “I Dreamed a Dream,” and Harmon nails every note in “On My Own.” They manage to create an emotional connection with their audience, despite their rushed storylines.

Harmon also participates in one of the most moving scenes of the musical: the performance of “A Little Fall of Rain,” when Éponine confesses to Marius that she loves him as she’s dying in his arms. Harmon’s performance had even the tough, middle-age man sitting next to me tearing up.

While the cast is amazing, the thing that really sets this production apart is its use of computer animation. The use of projected images, including some interpretations of Hugo’s original artwork, as a backdrop elevates the production to a level of realism rarely seen in musicals.

For 25 years, Les Misérables has proven itself to be one of the best musicals in musical theater history. Modern day children and teens may be more familiar and comfortable with the likes of “High School Musical,” but not going to see Les Misérables because it lacks pop-culture appeal would be their own loss, because the production is magical.

Watching Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens perform on screen cannot compare with watching these enormously talented individuals on stage, singing songs and performing a script that has inspired so many.

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