Spectacle that it is and audacious in its wringing of emotions, Les Miserables is not a Broadway show you'd ever call intimate. Whether it's the battle of wills between Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert or the tensions and violence of the Paris Uprising, Les Miz is theater on an epic scale. So, what a wondrous treat to experience the current production at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado.
Directed by Robert Smyth with musical direction by G. Scott Lacy, Lambs' production of Claude-Michel Shonberg and Alain Boublil's nearly 30-year-old theatrical warhorse manages to personalize the characters and the conflicts without sacrificing any of the show's stature. The fact that it's unfolding in a 350-seat theater in which for some the actors are practically within reach accounts for some of the intimacy. But Smyth, along with scenic designer Mike Buckley, lighting designer Nathan Peirson and sound designer Patrick Duffy, has conceived a Les Miserables that immerses audience members in the story rather than reducing them to observers from afar, as can be the case at the cavernous Pantages in Hollywood or even the Civic Theatre in downtown San Diego.
The barricades backdrop on stage—barrels, boxes, overturned chairs—looks like Grandma's attic gone wild, but it works so well here as a discreet seating area for the top-notch orchestra and, in some sequences, for the actors' movements.
None moves, or performs, any better than Brandon Joel Maier, whose redemption-seeking Jean Valjean has to be the highlight so far of this talented actor's blossoming career. The dependable Randall Dodge is a worthy adversary as Javert, and Neil Dale and Deborah Gilmour Smyth sparkle wickedly as the innkeepers Thenardier.
You know the story. You remember many of Les Miz's numbers: the rhythmic "Look Down," the mischievous "Master of the House," the Act 1-closing "One Day More" and Valjean's "Bring Him Home," which Maier sings with heart-rending plaintiveness. And in the Lamb's space, the song of salvation, "Take My Hand," could not be more tender.
Lamb's' ambitious production pumps rich, reinvigorating life into a show that, even deservedly so, has been done to death. It might even make you a Francophile.
Les Miserables runs through Sept. 28 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. $38- $78. lambsplayers.org
4,000 Miles : A staged reading of a play about a troubled young man who shows up at his 91-year-old grandmother's house after traveling across the country. It happens on Aug. 18 in the Schulman Auditorium at the Carlsbad City Library. carlsbadplayreaders.org
Dearly Beloved : Three Texas sisters plan a wedding. Will it be Antebellum-themed? Will it be a big ol' barbecue? Will it go off at all? Opens Aug. 15 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
My Fair Lady : On a bet, a professor endeavors to transform an unrefined girl into a lady, and it later occurs to him that he's smitten with her. Presented by Moonlight Stage Productions, it opens Aug. 13 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Words by Ira Gershwin : A musical tribute to George's older brother, who penned the lyrics to numerous classic tunes from the 1920s through the 1950s. Runs Aug. 14 through 24 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Geeks: The Musical : A satirical take on the nerds who flock to Comic-Con. Presented by Pysphi Productions, it runs through Aug. 16 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. geeksmusicalsd.com
Much Ado About Nothing : Believe it or not, no one dies at the end of this, one of Shakespeare's classic comedies. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it runs through Aug. 16 at SDA Performing Arts Centre in Encinitas. intrepidshakespeare.com
The Odd Couple : The Neil Simon comedy that launched the wildly successful TV series, about a stuffy clean-freak who moves in with a slobby friend. Presented by Broadway Theatre, it opens Aug. 1 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. broadwayvista.com
Once : A musical stage version of the 2006 film, about a sad Irish musician (Guy) who meets and falls for a piano player (Girl) just as he's planning a big move to New York. Presented by Broadway San Diego, it runs through Aug. 17 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. broadwaysd.com
Here Lies Jeremy Troy : In this farce, a painter hires a model to pose as his lawyer friend's wife when the lawyer's boss comes to dinner. Through Aug. 18 at PowPAC in Poway. powpac.org
Fiddler on the Roof : With the Russian Revolution on the horizon, a humble milkman struggles to keep his family's traditions alive and marry off his three daughters. Through Aug. 24 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Quartet : Three former opera singers, living at a home for aged musicians, are joined by the wife of one of them, and the four set out to perform one last concert. Through Aug. 24 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Pageant : Each show's audience picks a winner from six contestants in a beauty-and-talent competition in this musical comedy. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Aug. 31 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
The Full Monty : The stage version of the 1997 British film has six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers putting on a strip show to raise money—and their spirits. Through Sept. 7 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Les Miserables : In this classic musical, a poor Frenchman spends 19 years in prison after stealing a loaf of bread, only to escape and get caught up in a revolution under an assumed identity. Through Sept. 7 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
The Two Gentlemen of Verona : Two friends leave Verona for Milan, where, natch, they get caught up in a love—er, rectangle? Through Sept. 14 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Crime Pays : A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net