“Les Misérables,” the classic French novel turned musical, brought both emotion and precision during its opening night Tuesday at Shea’s Performing Arts Center.
The musical, which runs downtown through Sunday, is based around the redemptive tale of prisoner-turned-mayor Jean Valjean, the heartwarming story of young lovers Cosette and Marius and a student uprising that turns deadly.
Tuesday’s cast, part of the musical’s national tour, offered not only a world-class, musical dialogic delivery but an artistic bend to the musical led by cinematic backdrops and emotional moments.
Most of the movie-like aura (which dominated most of this tour’s rendition) is directed by Valjean, played by actor Patrick Dunn. Dunn hits a musical grand slam in the nearly three-hour production, showcasing his fluttery range of vocals and emotion on numbers such as “Bring Him Home” and “Who Am I?” His dramatic management of some of the play’s overarching themes (forgiveness and acceptance, for instance) shows through his laborious, whole approach toward his role.
Dunn’s solos were on full display as the actor was in his bag when it came to exhibiting the sort of maturity and thoughtfulness that some theater vets desire.
But as grand as Dunn was as Valjean, Javert (played by Preston Truman Boyd) had the most outstanding musical moments of the night. His emotive, sometimes angered bend toward the role collapses into introspective performances of “Stars” and “Turning,” the latter accompanied with brilliance in the special effects department that made the actor appear as if he jumped to his death.
“On My Own,” too, sung by Éponine (played by Phoenix Best) brought a peak in reaction from the Buffalo crowd that adored the actor's dominating, pitch-perfect solo.
Aside from song, comedy was also tied to couple the Thénardiers (Michelle Dowdy and Jimmy Smagula), who paraded around the stage with gags and goofs as pseudo-masters of ceremonies. Their outrageous dialogue and song in Montfermeil was fun but their silliness wore off a bit toward closing numbers in the show.
No matter the case, romanticism and adoration appeared to be the maximum factor in what made the performance not just a tear jerker but a musical where actors won over onlookers.
Whether through Valjean’s shared love for Fantine (Mary Kate Moore) or Marius’ (Joshua Grosso) schoolboy crush for Cosette (Jillian Butler), the actors' beautiful interactions and exchanges brought lightness to an overly dark theme.
This theme was apparent in the “painterly” aesthetic to the backdrops on stage, which brought a dimness to the stage that sometimes blurred actors’ faces even as they had a spotlight on them. But the cast appeared to work around it and honed it to their advantage, as company numbers were as cohesive as ever.
After the vocal-led finale, where Valjean says goodbye to Cosette and her lover, an angelic closure helped seal the musical with a standing ovation as the cast looks to continue to wow Buffalonians in the week to come.
Benjamin Blanchet is the senior engagement editor for The Spectrum. His words have been seen in The Buffalo News (Gusto) and The Sun newspapers of Western New York. Loves cryptoquip and double-doubles.