Playhouse on the Square, TN

Perfectly Miserable: Playhouse on the Square improves "Les Miserables

"Could it be that the potency of Les Miserables has been dampened by too much spectacle in previous incarnations? Will it only live up to its real potential as regional playhouses reconsider theatrical priorities, and work to fit the epic musical onto smaller stages?

The grandest thing about POTS triumphant (yes, I said triumphant) production of Les Miserables (other than the costumes, perhaps) is a nearly complete absence of grandness. Mark Guirguis’s scenic design is too useful and sturdy to inspire much awe. Sets are subtle and constructed with actors top-of-mind, not theater tourists. This is the perfect stage for a performer’s production of a show that, in its heyday, defined the modern, spectacle-driven mega-musical, while standing head and shoulders above most of its big budget peers. Instead of investing in technological marvels POTS director Gary John La Rosa has doubled down on the power of good singing, unfussy acting, and clear storytelling. To do so, he’s brought together some of the best voices I’ve encountered on a Memphis stage. Or any stage for that matter. The big payoff is an evening of genuine intimacy from a show that usually overwhelms.”

“Performances by leads and chorus members alike are first rate and fully packed.”

"POTS Les Miserables isn’t just populated with great voices. These are voices — human and orchestral — that sound fantastic together.”

“Victor Hugo’s monumental story about a man imprisoned for stealing bread, and stalked across decades by an unrelenting police officer while violence and rebellion breaks out all around, had to be cut to pieces to fit inside a noisy three hour musical. Like some gigantic clown car gag, so much story, and so many characters are crammed into so little space and time Les Miz is forever struggling at the edges of coherence and cohesion, and I’ve always wondered, should the spectacle ever be removed, what glue might hold all the shards of this sprawling thing together. The answer was there all the time.”

"With notable exceptions, Claude-Michel Schönberg’s compositions work more like a movie’s soundtrack than a musical’s score. They speak a language we’ve all grown up with, and use a grammar we instinctually understand. The music fills cracks in the storyline with passages that tell us how much time has passed between scenes, and exactly how to feel about it. In grander productions these sweeping manipulations feel like so much cheating. With spectacle so dialed back, the soundscape becomes the landscape. Suddenly this mega-musical takes on a more decidedly human scale and becomes a storyteller’s play. As feats of stage magic go, that’s way more impressive than a big mechanical barricade.”

“This production should thrill fans and surprise skeptics.”

Chris Davis – Memphis Flyer

Playhouse pulls off ambitious production of 'Les Miserables'

“Playhouse on the Square is going all out by opening its season with a grand production of Les Misérables. There are 31 cast members populating the musical, another 10 in the orchestra, plus waves of set pieces, scene changes and costumes.

“Director Gary John La Rosa knew he was facing epic expectations. Many have seen the recently released film, fans see whatever productions they can of the musical that won eight Tony Awards, and some folks may even have read Victor Hugo’s classic novel about love, justice, politics, history, religion — well, it is a sprawling tale crammed into a sprawling musical. La Rosa lays it all out effectively, striving for effect and historical accuracy.”

Jon W. Sparks – The Commercial Appeal – Go Memphis

© 2024 Gary John La Rosa