By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
What a turgid show. Just for fun, I decided to play the naïf and skip the Playbill's two-page crib sheet explaining the ridiculously convoluted plot about ex-con Jean Valjean (Randal Keith) and his nemesis, Inspector Javert (Trent Blanton at the performance reviewed). Yeah, just try to follow along strictly through the sung-through score. Impossible. The adaptation of Victor Hugo's epic novel by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and James Fenton is a murky bouillabaisse of too many characters, too many abrupt changes of mood and so many jumps of time and place there are slide projections to help establish things, as if seeing the word "Montfermeil" splashed on the back wall is such a big help.
If you know nothing about ol' Lame Is, the show could be interpreted as a dreary, bloated opera about po' folks, whores, pirates (at least that's how they're dressed, puffy shirts and all), cops, nuns, judges and sickly children. Everyone's angry every second. Except when they're singing a jaunty drinking tune at the local pub. When they get liquored up, the peasantry march in place waving red flags and singing their brains out about being hungry and poor.
They desperately need some dancing cats or singing monkeys to lighten up the mood of this thing. But all we get are more fist-pumping peons in raggedy dresses the color of dried dung. There haven't been this many whey-faced chorus girls in ugly kerchiefs since Cell Block 9 did Fiddler on the Roof.
Les Miserables continues through July 2 at the Music Hall at Fair Park. Call 214-631-2787.
Visually, this Les Miz presents tableau after tableau of unrelenting gloom. John Napier's set is a black hole. David Hersey's lighting wouldn't illuminate the top shelf of the average Frigidaire. Tres, tres depressing.
Even if you like Les Misérables, with its loud singing and French-fried phrasing, the Music Hall's notoriously sketchy sound system turns every other word to mush. When, that is, the singers themselves aren't gargling them to shreds or murdering every syllable with machine gun vibratos.
Songs such as "Thénardier Waltz" and "A Heart Full of Love" are hardly the toe-tappers of other hit musicals. One number, however, does stick fast, bubbling up later against your will like a bad bite of paté. That would be "Master of the House," one of the jaunty drinking tunes.
"Master of the house/Keeper of the zoo/Ready to relieve 'em/Of a sou or two." Remember the episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza couldn't stop singing it? Over and over, "Master of the house...la-da-da-da-da." Drove Jerry nuts.
Seinfeld, now that was a good show. In the time it takes to sit through Les Misérables, you could watch six episodes.