Les Misérables

It's the small, personal moments in Zach Theatre's staging that make this epic musical sing

Is Paris burning?: The cast of Zach's <i>Les Misérables</i>
Is Paris burning?: The cast of Zach's Les Misérables (Courtesy of Kirk Tuck)

Les Misérables

Topfer Theatre, 202 S. Lamar, 512/476-0541
www.zachtheatre.org
Through Nov. 3
Running time: 2 hr., 40 min.

Ah yes, the barricade. The red flags of rebellion waving. The anthemic call to the people to "join in our crusade." The flash and fire of politics and historical sweep may have distinguished Les Misérables from its megamusical brethren, but when the smoke clears from the Parisian streets, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's pop opera is really much more a personal story, exploring the intimate relationships of a father and daughter, that daughter and the student who loves her, that student and the young woman who loves him unrequitedly, a policeman and the escaped convict who eludes him. That may have always been true, but it's certainly more apparent in the intimacy of Zach's Topfer Theatre, where we're close enough to catch the small gestures between these figures and the searching looks in their eyes.

And it turns out that those personal moments are where Zach Theatre's production truly sings: Paul Sanchez as the Bishop of Digne gently and compassionately covering for a desperate Jean Valjean who has stolen from him; Traci Lee's Éponine, aglow as she imagines the caress of the man who cannot return her love; Andrew Cannata as that man, Marius, the lone survivor of his student army, bitterly noting his comrades' absence. Oh, Joshua Denning surely stokes the revolutionary flames as student rebel Enjolras, and when he tears into "Do You Hear the People Sing?" – which, if you can't have "The Marseillaise," is as irresistible as populist anthems get – you'll find his fervor igniting your own egalitarian zeal. And director Matt Lenz and choreographer Greg Graham move the nearly three dozen performers fluidly through the tale's swirl of settings, even without a turntable to ease the task, as in so many other stagings. But every so often, the normally attentive chorus lets its sense of the stakes slip, and the tension goes slack, as in the defense of the barricade, when, save for the passionate Denning and Cannata, the rebels stand about as casually as if they were manning a parade float of the June Rebellion. More gripping is the aftermath of battle, when Javert, the hound of the law relentlessly chasing the ex-con Valjean, carries in the lifeless form of the child Gavroche. The tenderness with which Nicholas Rodriguez lays down the body of this boy, who minutes earlier exposed him as a spy, makes us reconsider everything we think we know about this stony-hearted inspector.

Indeed, Javert comes off as unexpectedly soulful here, with Rodriguez's eyes as haunted as if he were the pursued rather than the pursuer. In his compelling rendition of "Stars," Javert's ode to our celestial judges, his determination seems borne of a desperate need to atone for some secret sin of his own. Meanwhile, Valjean, who's typically the caring, empathetic foil to Javert's heartless hunter, comes off as the disconnected one; whenever Pat McRoberts is engaged with someone else, his gaze invariably drifts away, as if Valjean has gotten lost in his own head, in the concern for his own salvation. He sings beautifully – indeed, the singing here, as directed by Allen Robertson, is uniformly lovely – but there's a surprising aloofness to his actions. We may welcome his redemption, but we're more moved by the eyes that lock in love, that long for a mate, that flare with fury.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Les Misérables
Kimberley Jones' Top 10 list
Kimberley Jones' Top 10 list
Kimberley Jones' Top 10s

Kimberley Jones, Jan. 4, 2013

More Austin theatre
Valoneecia Tolbert Geeks Out in <i>Tales of a Blerd Ballerina</i>
Valoneecia Tolbert Geeks Out in Tales of a Blerd Ballerina
The actress looks back at what it was to be young, geeky, and Black

Robert Faires, April 9, 2021

Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
When is violence in theatre too much?

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 9, 2016

More Arts Reviews
"Dogs Heal in Borderlandia: Andrea Muñoz Martinez"
In this solo exhibition, the artist provides canine companions for a most colorful landscape

Robert Faires, March 19, 2021

"Andy St. Martin: The Weight" at Prizer Arts & Letters
In his newest show, the artist is, as ever, nothing if not commitment incarnate

Wayne Alan Brenner, Feb. 26, 2021

More by Robert Faires
Vote for New Music in Golden Hornet's String Quartet Smackdown VII
Vote for New Music in Golden Hornet's String Quartet Smackdown VII
For the seventh year, Golden Hornet referees this composition competition while you decide the winner

March 26, 2021

Artist Madeline Irvine Marks COVID Time With the Pandemic Clock
Artist Madeline Irvine Marks COVID Time With the Pandemic Clock
The Austin artist has turned a daily practice into a way to count down the lockdown

March 19, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin theatre, Les Misérables, Zach Theatre, Matt Lenz, Greg Graham, Nicholas Rodriguez, Andrew Cannata, Joshua Denning, Pat McRoberts, Traci Lee

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle