Interview With MN Cast Member, Ben Gunderson

It seems a little ridiculous that the 25th anniversary production of Les Misérables just so happens to be my first experience with the world’s longest running musical but as they say, some things are worth the wait.

After Tuesday night’s opening performance of Les Miz at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, I felt like I was finally able to check off one of the most important musicals from my list. Though I’ve never seen the original production, I will say this updated and new performance was highly entertaining with a truly stellar cast.

Topping that list was none other than J. Mark McVey, who has played the role of Jean Valjean so many times I almost wonder if he’s slightly become the character. His transformation of the role from start to finish was captivating, if not at times breathtaking.

McVey’s ability to capture an audience is truly impressive — I’ve never seen such stirring performances back-to-back with little more than the actor and his backdrop. During the heartbreaking rendition of “Bring Him Home,” I felt my jaw hit the ground as McVey held a note that would be challenging for a high alto — completely unwavering and beautifully strong.

The music throughout the show has also been kicked up a notch — a revamped orchestration brings a robust, slightly rough soundtrack that plays a bit more towards a rock edge, yet keeps the soft melodies of the classic, true to form. For example, “On My Own” and “I Dreamed A Dream” were just as magical as I was hoping, and now had new meaning. Both exemplify a greater urgency and a heart-wrenching plea — and both were performed without flaw. Eponine, played by Chasten Harmon, had especially wonderful vocals, finding the perfect pitch between desperation and fearless.

The story itself was said to have gained some clarity through the updated material, though I’ll admit during certain scenes I still wasn’t 100 percent sure where we were headed. The creativity to transform certain scenery and create new places on the same stage, however, was incredibly impressive.

Imagining a long, dreary walk through what seemed like an endless tunnel wasn’t so difficult when the projection of moving walls transports you to that darkened sewer. The end of one man’s life has never seemed so lonely and cold as it did when that hopeless soul threw himself off a bridge — and through the use of pulleys and moving visuals, did so in such a realistic fashion.

The endless loop of singing — the show provides no dialogue — gives the show a backbone unlike any other. Each scene moves effortlessly from one to the next, gripping your attention and never letting go.

While this was my first experience with Les Miz, the story never grows old and as this refurbished production proves, some things only get better with time.

Les Misérables runs through Dec. 18 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Tickets start at $42 and are available by clicking here.


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