For many years, my favorite musical has been Les Misérables. My mom had the soundtrack on cassette tape and I loved listening to it (along with Phantom of the Opera and Evita...)
When we lived in Bloomington, Indiana, the traveling company came and my family went. I remember sitting there, in awe of the huge stage (it was the first thing I ever went to that was performed on a full size professional stage) and even more amazed that the whole stage rotated. As I learned more about the play, I discovered that the whole stage, basically, has this massive turntable on it. Some scenes are performed with the turntable in motion, other times, the turntable was used to rotate set pieces and props on and off the stage. I remember so vividly the barricade scene, when the students were lying dead on and off the barricade. The student who had been waving the flag when he was she was draped over the barricade along with the huge red flag. As the orchestra played, the stage rotated and you see everyone who had fallen on both sides, with the bright red of the flag cascading down among the bodies. It was such an epic scene- as you should be able to tell, based on the fact that I remember that from when I was... maybe 10 years old?
Les Misérables is playing right now at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and Aaron and I went to it on Thursday. The music was just as good as ever, though with slightly different instrumentation (no soundtrack is as powerful as hearing it live), and the theater was beautiful. Most of the cast was amazing- I have to admit that I cried several times throughout the performance.
However, I was disappointed to learn that the production was changed for its 25th anniversary. The staging and set was completely redone. It was still a great set, but I guess they removed the turntable. Maybe because it was difficult to transport, maybe because they were just trying to do something new different... I'm not sure why they did it, but it diminished the performance a little bit for me. The stage also seemed a little small- I think that's because they had some rather large set pieces that framed the stage throughout, cutting out some of the usable stage space. Aaron had no problems with it- I did only because I missed the turntable. And obviously, no turntable = no rotating barricade. I found myself missing it.
They also used lighting effects to create the backdrops- they were generally very good, but they freaked me out a little bit when they moved. For example, when Jean Valjean is carrying Marius through the sewers, the backdrop moved to make it appear as thought the characters were moving forward even though they were actually walking in place. I don't know whether this is a new effect or maybe I just don't remember it from before, but I have mixed feelings about it.
Also, I was really unhappy with Eponine. She has always been my favorite character in Les Misérables. But the actress I saw this week was... not impressive. I didn't feel like she stood out enough- she really blended in with the crowd, vocally and physically. And she was a good half step flat on her last 2 notes of On My Own. Sad.
Okay so I know I've pretty much written about everything I didn't like about the show, but really it was awesome. Most of the things I didn't like are only because I have an earlier production to compare it to. If I didn't, I'm sure I would love the set (it really is good), and I wouldn't even know to miss the turntable. I would probably still be a little weirded out the by moving backdrop, but it was beautiful and flawless when it was still. The singing and acting was impressive and the cast was well chosen (minus the Eponine issues, which I would have noticed whether I'd seen it already or not). It was emotional and grand, hence the crying in multiple places. I recommend it to anyone, really.