Reports confirm that Kyle Jean-Baptiste—the first black actor ever to play Jean Valjean on Broadway in Les Misérables— died last night after an accidental fall off of a fire escape.
“The entire Les Miserables family is shocked and devastated by the sudden and tragic loss of Kyle, a remarkable young talent and tremendous person who made magic—and history—in his Broadway debut,” the production said in a statement. “We send our deepest condolences to his family and ask that you respect their privacy in this unimaginably difficult time.”
The Broadway Blog offers our deepest sympathies to Jean -Baptiste’s family and the company of Les Misérables.
Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexlerrevisits a modern classic, Les Misérables.
A scene from “Les Misérables” (photo: Matthew Murphy) via The Broadway Blog.
“At the end of the day you’re another day older.”
So goes the lyric in one of musical theater’s most epic adventures, Les Misérables, which returns to Broadway this spring in a triumphant new staging co-directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell with additional musical staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt. If that seems like a lot of hands on deck, well… it is, but apparently it takes an army to bring to life Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel that follows the journey of Jean Valjean as he matures from enraged convict to soft-hearted senior—all set against the backdrop of the French Revolution.
Les Miz fanatics will be thrilled with the new production, which retains the sweeping melodies of the original but replaces the synthetic 1980s orchestrations with a more natural sound, though the hard-working 20-piece orchestra could use more strings to fully realize its intent. Long gone is the set’s famous turntable and encroaching barricade, instead replaced by a conventional set with pieces flying and rolling in as needed. Set and image designer Matt Kinley incorporates creative projections that add depth and dimension, though occasionally feel more Xbox than 19th century.
Ramin Karimloo in “Les Misérables” (photo: Matthew Murphy) via The Broadway Blog.
But what catapults this latest incarnation to a new level are the emotionally raw, visceral performances of its leading men: Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean and Will Swenson as Javert. Their cat and mouse chase throughout the years is wrought with tension and urgency. Karimloo, an Iranian-born Canadian actor, sports a soaring tenor voice (not to mention a full sleeve tattoo) that captures the nuances, vulnerability and rage of Valjean’s journey. Unlike the original production, the staging allows Karimloo freedom to move and breathe unique life into the character. We see Valjean’s uncontrollable temper slowly melt as he undertakes the responsibility of caring for young Cosette, the orphaned daughter of Eponine, a woman who worked in Valjean’s factory who succumbed to the hardships of the era. Karimloo’s dynamic performance—sometimes frenetic and wiry and at other times distilled into quiet melancholy, anchors the story while simultaneously propelling it forward.
Will Swenson in “Les Misérables” (photo: Matthew Murphy) via The Broadway Blog.
As his longtime nemesis Javert, Will Swenson is a worthy counterpart. Hunting Valjean throughout the years, their encounters grow with increasing tension as Javert descends into despair while Valjean’s sense of peace and purpose only increases. Swenson’s bari-tenor voice sounds stifled at times by the role’s limited vocal range, but like Karimloo, delivers an emotionally charged performance.
Surprisingly, the women of this Les Miz are less successful. Caissie Levy as Fantine, while possessing a powerful voice that could storm a barricade, lacks the emotional vulnerability needed to portray a woman forced to sacrifice her morals and eventually her life to save her child. Nikki M. James (Tony Award-winner for Book of Mormon) also hits her marks but lacks any sort of chemistry with love interest Marius (charmingly portrayed by Andy Mientus). As adult Cosette, Samantha Hill fares far better, capturing the style of the era as well as possessing a clear, soprano voice.
The spirited ensemble—an ever-changing cast of street urchins, revolutionaries and the like—fill the Imperial Theatre with some of the best voices on Broadway right now, though they are quite young and leave one to wonder what the age expectancy was circa 1832.
At its core, Les Misérables, is a story of compassion and forgiveness. As Valjean sings on his deathbed, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” It is a testament that people—if willing—can change. Whether you’re a Les Miz fanatic or one of the handful that has yet to see this epic tale, this production beautifully retells what has become a classic of the modern musical theater.
Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler discovers not one, but threeproductions of Les Misérables about to storm the theatrical barricade.
Les Miz Returns to Broadway The epic tale of Jean Valjean, a stolen loaf of bread, and a chorus of Broadway belters returns to the Imperial Theatre for another Les Misérables revival 28 years after it burst onto the London stage. Since its first production, more than 65 million people have seen the show, not counting those mesmerized by the in-your-face Academy Award-winning film.
Cameron Mackintosh’s newly staged production scraps the famous turntable and opts, instead, for a reimagined design and a cast of newbies as well as Les Miz vets from previous productions. “There is no doubt that Les Misérables will be storming the barricades for many years to come,” says Mackintosh. “I know that when I go “beyond the barricade”, the part I played in bringing Les Misérables to life as a musical will remain one of my proudest achievements.
But if you think Broadway is the only place to get your Les Miz fix, you’ve got another barricade to storm. There are two notable U.S. productions happening simultaneous to the Broadway revival. Take the keep to find out what other theater companies are tackling the French Revolution.
As part of this week’s series of our favorite Broadway love songs, I turned to Broadway producer extraordinaire, Eva Price. Her Broadway producing credits include “Annie,” “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony” among others.
Our little secret: Eva’s got a soft spot for some of the best Broadway ballads as well as a couple of quirkier picks — a sure sign that she’s got an eye for what will be the next big hit. Here are some of her favorites…
“As Long As Your Mine,” Wicked
“This is a gorgeous, sexy, passionate song. Out of context it’s gritty and somewhat sexual. And then you stop and think, two people of two different races (essentially) who aren’t necessarily supposed to be together are so fused by desire that they are tearing each other’s clothes off, AND singing to each other. Totally beautiful!”
“Little Fall of Rain,” Les Miserables “A totally heartbreaking moment. Unrequited love always gets me and this is a raw, real, and tragic ending to a love that will never be. Whoever sings this song (Broadway, West End, movie… even amateur productions that I’ve seen) blows my mind and breaks my heart with those killers voices and emotional delivery.”
Hugh Jackman in "Les Miserables". Image via lesmiserablesfilm.com.
The Broadway news this week was particularly brutal with three tough closing announcements — Chaplin, hanging in there against the odds for a number of months, Scandalous, quickly closing after tough reviews and The Anarchist, a shockingly brief run given combo of Mamet, LuPone and Winger. But it’s the holiday season and I refuse to let any of this get me down. Instead, let’s look ahead with some delicious preview footage from three musicals.
First up, the film version of Les Miserableshas been getting generally very good reviews (except for those who seem to want it not to be a musical) after opening in London. There’s a lot of footage on the internet and I’ve been trying to stay away from it so I go into the theater fresh. However, I couldn’t resist watching this snippet about a NEW SONG written just for the film:
In his continuing series, Andrew Glaszek pays tribute to music theater greats deserving of diva status. Today, he looks at an actress who has been in some of the biggest hits of the last few decades but still isn’t a household name…
Judy Kuhn "Just in Time". Image via Amazon.
To some, life would just be bland and banal without The Broadway Album, It’s Better with a Band, Way Back To Paradise, or Matters of The Heart. And though I respect Barbra, love Barbara, Audra, and worship at the altar of Patti, my life (and repertoire) wouldn’t be the same without the album Just In Time: Judy Kuhn Sings Jule Styne. It’s a recording that is, start to finish, fantastic.
This should be no surprise to anyone who fell in love with Ms. Kuhn in the revival of She Loves Me (TONY Nom), was blown away by her “Just Around The Riverbend” as Disney’s Pocahontas, or found her Betty Schaefer better than the leading actress in the Broadway Sunset Boulevard. Choosing a favorite song or performance by her is a tough task since this is the same wonder woman who leaves people obsessed with her soprano in Les Miserables (TONY Nom) and her belt in Chess (Tony Nom)! This season, Judy hit the NY stage and filled the house in the Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s Fun Home at The Public and is sure to tear up the town as Fosca in Classic Stage Company’s upcoming revival of Sondheim’s Passion.
It’s also great to have the prospect of a new solo album on the horizon that should include songs by Sondheim and Porter amongst others. Without a record label backing this project, she’s taken to kickstarter for financing of this, her third solo recording after Just In Time… in ’95 and Serious Playground – The Songs of Laura Nyro from ’07. Check out her campaign for a video and incentives.
So while you get your tix for Passion and help kickstart her new album, get your Judy Kuhn fix with these clips (and go buy Just In Time: Judy Kuhn Sings Jule Styne on iTunes!)…