Wednesday, February 08, 2023

‘Les Misérables’ at the Hippodrome est Magnifique

If you bought a ticket simply to hear the magical tenor voice of Nick Cartell who plays Jean Valjean in the stellar production of Les Misérables currently mounted at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre as part of a North America tour, it would be worth it just for that.  The same could be said for experiencing the performances of Preston Truman Boyd as Javert or Matt Crowle as Thénardier or Addie Morales as Cosette or Gregory Lee Rodriguez as Marius.

In fact, the entire sizable cast, attired in superb period costumes, delivers astounding performances. And the work of the solid orchestra conducted by Brian Eads and an incredibly creative technical crew to deliver innovative and efficient staging under the impeccable direction of Laurence Connor and James Powell. These elements combine to present one of the truly amazing spectacles to adorn the Hippodrome stage.

Les Misérables, a classic sung-through musical based on the 1862 novel by the French poet/playwright Victor Hugo, has been entertaining audiences throughout the world for decades.  The Broadway musical, whose score was written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, with an English-language libretto by Herbert Kretzmer, opened in March 1987 and ran until May 2003. Les Mis was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won eight, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. The musical has been performed in over 40 countries in 22 languages.

The powerhouse catalog of songs such as “Who Am I,” “Come to Me,” “Master of the House,” “Red and Black,” “Do You Hear the People Sing?”, “A Heart Full of Love,” the show-stopping “One Day More,” “A Little Fall of Rain,” “Bring Him Home” and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” are gorgeous and memorable.

" of the truly amazing spectacles to adorn the Hippodrome stage."

The compelling storyline with its adventure, drama, love, generosity, redemption and tragedy has many moving parts to it, but it essentially follows the life of a peasant Jean Valjean in early 19th century France.  He had been imprisoned 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread as a means to help his sister’s starving child as well as for multiple attempted escapes. 

After Valjean broke parole, he began his life again, turning to God and seeking redemption that was aided by the kindness from a Bishop.  Throughout this journey, Valjean was doggedly pursued by police inspector Javert who maintained that Valjean would always remain a criminal at the core and could never change for the better.  

Changing his identity, Valjean became a town mayor and factory owner eight years later. He rescued a dying woman named Fantine from the police and promised her to care for her young daughter Cosette, whom he liberates from the abusive innkeepers-turned-street gang leaders, the Thénardiers.   

Years pass by and Valjean is still being dogged by Javert, and a student uprising begins in Paris in which Valjean and many other characters are drawn in.  One of the revolutionaries, Marius, falls in love with the grown Cosette who reciprocates, and they eventually marry.  Valjean, who rescued Marius from an injury sustained at the hands of the French military at the barricades, ultimately reveals his identity before he passes on. 

Much occurs in between as this merely represents the contours of the plot. The story contrasts the compassionate good and search for redemption with the evil of dispassion towards human misery.

Since there is no dialogue, the entire plot is revealed through highly memorable music, and the performances are characterized by top-notch vocals with clear enunciation of the lyrics to illuminate the story.   

As John Valjean, Nick Cartell delivers a master class in singing and acting. His incredibly powerful tenor vocals are captivating, eliciting thunderous ovations from the audience. Solos, such as “Who Am I?” and “Bring Him Home” are guaranteed to bring chills. His duets with Haley Dortch as Fantine in “Come to Me” and “A Little Fall of Rain” with Christine Heesun Huang as Éponine are also outstanding.

"Red and Black" Devin Archer as Enjolras and Company

As the intense and relentless Javert who is committed to the law, Preston Truman Boyd brings his commanding baritone to the fore. He soars with “Stars” and “Soliloquy,” and his dynamic acting skills come into play as well.

Haley Dortch movingly plays the tragic figure Fantine, a poverty-stricken soul who turned to prostitution to pay innkeepers, the Thénardiers, to take care of her daughter, Cosette. Prior to her death, Fantine asks Valjean to take care of Cosette.  Ms. Dortch’s main song, “I Dreamed a Dream” is performed touchingly.

Gregory Lee Rodriguez is sturdy in the role of the student revolutionary Marius and the love interest of Cosette (Addie Morales).  He is convincingly passionate and sings effectively in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” and in a duet with Ms. Hwang as Éponine, the daughter of the Thénardiers (Matt Crowle and Christina Rose Hall) in “A Little Fall of Rain.” Mr. Rodriguez also performs well in several group numbers.

Ms. Hwang does an excellent job in the portrayal of Éponine, a woman who took after her father and became a thief. She secretly loved Marius but was unable to land the prize. In a moving number, “A Heart Full of Love,” Ms. Hwang sings beautifully with Ms. Morales and Mr. Rodriguez.

Ms. Hall as Madame Thénardier adroitly demonstrates her vocal prowess and funny facial expressions in her scenes. And Mr. Crowle is an absolute scene stealer.  The Thénardiers are a conniving couple who provide what little comedy the show offers (after all, “Miserables” is in the title). Mr. Crowle leads my personal favorite number, the snappy and hilarious “Master of the House.” He also excels in “Dog Eats Dog” and “Beggars at the Feast.”

Another vocal standout is Devin Archer as Enjolras, the leader of the student revolutionaries and a friend of Marius.  Commanding an outstanding voice, his performances in “Red and Black” and “Do You Hear the People Sing” with other members of the ensemble are fantastic.

Other notable cast members include Harrison Fox who in the evening this production was reviewed plays the young street urchin Gavroche (he alternates with Gabriel Lafazan) and Randy Jeter as the Bishop of Digne.

The remainder of the company consisting of the other cast members, Thénardier’s Gang, the Students and the entire Ensemble are sensational in their singing, acting and movements on the stage.

As is the case with the performers, the atmospherics are spectacular, to say the least. Highly detailed and authentic costumes originally designed by Andreane Neofitou with additional design by Christine Rowland and Paul Wills allow you to travel in a time capsule back to 1800’s France.

Matt Kinley’s set design is imaginative and functional and is inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. Two multi-story stone dwellings flank the stage with many moveable set pieces including the iconic barricades used throughout. Projections amplify the scenery with the eventual demise of Javert being one of the show’s many highlights.  Fog effects are used liberally.

Lighting Designer Paule Constable keeps the stage dim during most of the production.  This is symbolic of the impending gloom and tragedies that are intrinsic to the story. However, flashes of light are used effectively during the battle at the barricades for maximum dramatic effect. These moments are aided by Mick Potter’s excellent sound that depicts gunshots during the battle.

With all the elements excelling throughout combined with the masterful performances, this is theatre at its best.  Les Mis is tout simplement spectaculaire and worthy of the rollicking standing ovation it received at show’s end.  Don’t miss it.

Running time. Three hours with an intermission.

Les Misérables runs through February 12 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit or

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