Among the most talented of these performers were J. Mark McVey, who played central figure Jean Valjean, and Chasten Harmon, who portrayed Éponine.
McVey’s portrayal of the guilt-ridden and tormented Valjean felt very genuine, and he seemed to have approached the part with real honesty. His emotionally charged rendition of “Bring Him Home” sent chills up the spine and had the majority of the audience wiping away tears.
He was, quite simply, phenomenal.
Harmon played the spunky, street girl Éponine, who falls in love with a man she cannot have. She gave a powerful performance of the show’s famous number “On My Own” a performance which was both vulnerable and uplifting. Harmon’s swan song, “A Little Fall of Rain,” was easily one of the most moving moments of a musical filled with intense scenes.
The only weak spot in the cast was Betsy Morgan, who played Fantine, a single mother who is crushed by life on the streets and dies, leaving her child to Valjean’s protection.
Morgan’s delivery of the show’s signature song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” fell short. She belted much of the song, which seemed ill-fitting for such a downtrodden character, and her voice ended up sounding very strained.
With all this amazing talent, it is a shame that the touring company did not handle the playbill situation better. Several of the roles were double-cast or had understudies.
In particular, the children’s roles were alternated between different child actors each performance, but there was no good way for audiences to know who was performing which part in a given performance, as no announcements were made to this effect before the show.
There was one bulletin board in the lobby with this information, but with the packed house at the Tennessee crowding through the doors, it was almost impossible to reach.
In addition to the cast, the staging was also excellent. Occasionally in theater productions, especially musical theater, the staging will seem awkward, mechanical or overly choreographed.
However, in this show, it was seamless.
Every action made logical sense and fit perfectly into the plot. In the riot and battle scenes, the actors were arranged strategically so that their actions could be seen and their deaths, meaningful.
It came across flawlessly.
The set design and backdrops, which were inspired by paintings by Victor Hugo himself, served to create the atmosphere for the productions. Instead of canvas backdrops, the production used projections, which allowed for effortless transitions between scenes.
It also enabled some creative staging.
In one scene, a character commits suicide by jumping off a bridge. To create the effect, the actor was suspended from a wire, while the bridge was removed from under his feet. Then, water was projected onto the backdrop. The actor was moved towards the backdrop and through a hidden door, making it truly appear as if he were falling backward into the water.
Anybody who thinks technology is not benefitting the arts really needs to see this show.
Overall, the production was inspiring, rousing, heartbreaking and uplifting. It was impossible to sit in that audience and not feel completely moved in some way.