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While I was watching the new revival of “Les Misérables,” it occurred to me that this beloved stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel may have helped pave the way for the pop singing contests that have proliferated across the globe in this century.
Much like those televised competitions — “American Idol” and “The Voice” being the national brand leaders — “Les Misérables” presents audiences with a stage full of singers who, one by one, have a chance to step into the spotlight (in this case a very smoke-suffused one) and astonish us with the mighty heft and range of their voices. The through-sung score, by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil (the English lyrics are by Herbert Kretzmer), boasts a passel of throat-searing numbers that build to rousing climaxes. Theatergoers at the reviewed performance cheered as if they were indeed at a sing-off featuring fresh-faced young performers singing pop favorites with all the dazzling flourishes they could muster.
As pretty much everyone by now knows, the musical dramatizes the elaborate tale of an unfortunate French guy who stole a loaf of bread and lived to regret it. The production that opened at the Imperial Theater on Sunday night, returning the show to Broadway to capitalize on the popularity of the recent movie version, gives it an update of sorts. The original London staging by John Caird and Trevor Nunn, with its famous turntable set, has been set aside in favor of a new one, directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, with nothing spinning around except maybe the drunken revelers at the tavern. (A short-lived revival that came to Broadway in 2006, just three years after the long-running original closed, was a facsimile of that production.)
Make your way to the show and have the time of your life.