"LES MISERABLES," through Oct. 20, dates and times vary, Utah Shakespeare Festival, 351 W. Center, Cedar City (435-586-7878 or www.bard.org)
CEDAR CITY — This happens sometimes. Popular culture overtakes great literature, even multiple television programs and films. Such is the case with Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," written in 1862. American novelist Upton Sinclair said of this work, "… as long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless."
My point is that we now have at least one generation that has never read it or even seen a multipart series. There is so much more to the story than a musical can possibly deliver.
Can you tell that I am not one of the millions who have seen "Les Mis" at least half a dozen times? Nothing wrong with fans, especially of very well-done productions — and the Utah Shakespeare Festival has created a winner, a blockbuster. And, I might add, the director, cast and crew have done it without special effects. There is a pureness about his show that I like very much.
Utah Shakes, as it is affectionately known, does not need me or any other critic to attract audiences. However, if you are one of thousands in our state or neighbors in others who have said, "We really should go," then this is the season.
The story revolves around Jean Valjean, who after 19 years of imprisonment, has been released but is watched by Inspector Javert, who is determined to catch him stealing again. Valjean is given a chance at a new life by a Catholic bishop, and he decides to change his identity.
Fast-forward eight years. Valjean now owns a factory and promises to care for the daughter of one of his workers, wrongly fired. Javert recognizes Valjean and pursues him, but again, he disappears with the daughter, Cosette. Nine more years pass and Paris is experiencing unrest. Romance between Cosette and Marius, rebellion among the students and the end of Javert all move this story of redemption to its remarkably uplifting conclusion.
The festival's artistic directors tell me they searched the country for this show's lead character, Jean Valjean. They found him at home in Utah. J. Michael Bailey has a beautiful voice and brings heart and soul to his performance.
I, like so many, am a fan of both Brian Vaughn and Melinda Pfundstein. They were stunning as Inspector Javert and Fantine. I said to myself, I am not going to cry when Melinda sings "I Dreamed a Dream," but she did and I did. And I could not stop reliving Brian's great solos. Barbara Jo Bednarczuk and Tina Scariano as the adult Eponine and Cosette and Joey DeBenedetto as Enjolras deserve notice for very honest and well-done performances. You will enjoy both Max Robinson and Kymberly Mellen as the Thenardiers.
It is a strong company. This production is demanding and requires most of the cast to play multiple characters and make the audience believe in much larger crowds for certain scenes. The sets and lighting work very well in creating the right atmosphere and drawing audiences in.
And last but not least, kudos to Brad Carroll. He has directed wonderful productions for years at USF, and he has done it once again. If you have a chance to meet him and share a conversation, please do. He is a sheer delight.
If you love this musical and want your children to see it, I suggest giving them a short history lesson beforehand. They should understand the plight of the poor and the reason behind the 1832 Rebellion. Give them ideas that they will see become reality on stage. This works with Shakespeare's plays as well.
Perhaps by now, your summer plans are full, but the good news is that "Les Miserables" will continue running into mid-October.