As "Les Misérables" hits its 25th anniversary, the movie version may steal the thunder of the current production at the National Theatre.
But while the newest stage production of Boublil and Schonberg's play adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel lacks the star power of the movie's Hugh Jackman or Anne Hathaway, it still shines with its own passion and intensity.
Directors Laurence Connor and James Powell have managed to condense the most powerful scenes of the play in a scaled-down story, slightly shorter than the original production, and with a smaller cast.
While the original Broadway version included a rotating stage and more expansive scenery, this one focuses more simply on the singers, and allows them to really shine because they aren't competing with as much visual stimulation.
And shine they do. As the heroic protagonist Jean Valjean (Peter Lockyer) is sturdy, passionate and handsome, and his nemesis Javert, (Andrew Varela) is haunting and tortured. But despite the intensity of the conflict between these two leads, the show's real scene-stealers are tragic female characters.
In Act I, Fantine (Genevieve LeClervc) a tortured, poverty-stricken, dying mother is heart-breaking in her tale of woe and loss. Her version of "I Dreamed a Dream" is full of pathos and mourning. In Act II, the second tragic heroine, Eponine (Briana Carson-Goodman) is equally moving a she sacrifices her life in pursuit of a man who sees her as a friend. She fills the stage with her voice during her rendition of "On My Own," so full of longing and desire.
Featuring a 14-piece orchestra conducted by Lawrence Goldberg, the show manages to deliver on the play's big performance scenes, like "Master of the House," and "One Day More."
Comic relief is provided to the otherwise tragic story through the masterful physical slapstick of the Thénardiers (Shawna M. Hamic and Timothy Gulan) who provide the otherwise clownish characters with a certain human honesty.
Only Cosette (Lauren Wiley) and Marius (Devin Ilaw) are forgettable, and their romance seems more of an afterthought. At their wedding scene, the ghosts of all the more powerful roles in the play remain onstage, reminding you that far from being a simple love story, this is a play about loss, heartbreak, and redemption.
"Les Misérables" runs through Dec. 30 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets or info, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.nationaltheatre.org/