Balagan’s Remarkable “Les Misérables”

Even if you’ve seen “Les Miz” before, seen it in a huge theatre with a Broadway cast, you’ll find this intimate and stunning production worthy of a second look. And if you’ve never seen it, this is your opportunity to see a fine rendition, and at a bargain price.

On stages for 28 years, “Les Miz,” recipient of numerous theatre awards, is the world’s longest running musical. It’s been produced in 42 countries and seen by more than 65 million people. Doesn’t that suggest this is rather a remarkable work? It’s Boublil and Schönberg’s musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s tale of love and hate, valor and treachery, mercy and vindictiveness, revolution and prostitution. It’s Paris in the 19th century where a man can be condemned to hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread for a starving child. It’s the story of the honorable Jean Valjean, finally released from prison after 19 years only to be hunted and haunted by the vindictive Javert for breaking parole even though he is now an upstanding businessman, mayor and surrogate father of the lovely orphan Cosette.

The Balagan production provides all the emotional ups and downs on Ahren Buhmann’s well-wrought stage. It works as prison, whorehouse, pub, city streets, sanctuary, and even revolutionary barricade, making the most of the theatre’s space. Space was the problem that Balagan had to overcome. This is a huge production. The Erickson theatre is of modest size. It took ingenious engineering to make it all work. And they accomplished that remarkably well. The only carp one can make is that sometimes the sound overwhelms the space.

But the production needs big sound, and the orchestra directed by Nathan Young and hidden behind the set amply provides it. The accomplished cast can belt out the brassy numbers and tenderly emote the intimate ones. Louis Hobson (Balagan’s artistic director recently returned from NY and Broadway) makes a powerful and sympathetic Jean Valjean. And I didn’t see a weak performance in the entire cast though, in some cases, high notes were a stretch.

Balagan’s Executive Director Jake Groshong is the mastermind who put this production together and made it work. What an accomplishment!

Through Sept. 28 at the Erickson Theatre, 1524 Harvard Ave., Seattle, (206-329-1050 or www.balagantheatre.org).

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