Review: Les Misérables At Des Moines Performing Arts

One of the things I love most about attending live theatre performances is you never quite know what to expect. Even if it’s a show you know a lot about or seen before, there usually is some aspect of “newness” every time you go.

When my oldest daughter and I attended the April 17, 2018 opening night performance of Les Misérables at Des Moines Civic Center I really didn’t know what to expect.

I knew it was beloved musical and was highly awarded. I also vaguely remembered singing a song or two in high school or college choir… but I couldn’t tell you which songs they were. The story? Couldn’t tell you a thing about it.

What I discovered was a nearly 3-hour performance of a great story and incredible music and acting. Perhaps the most unexpected thing for me about this show was that all the dialogue was sung. I had never experienced that in a theatrical performance before and it was really interesting.

This music in Les Misérables is very powerful, adding to the action on the stage. Many times I couldn’t believe that such a sound was being created by only a handful of people on stage. It really was pretty cool.

As long as I’m touching on the music, the orchestra deserves a special nod.  They provided a flawless live soundtrack for the performers to sing along with.

When looking at the orchestra members listed in the playbill I was surprised at just how few there really were… considering the big sound they produced. It was also nice to see the conductor watching the show and leading the music. For me, it’s not a distraction, but a subtle reminder that “this presentation features live music and acting”.

Nick Cartell, in the role of Jean Valjean, deserves special recognition. His vocal range and performance were spectacular. There was one particular note in the second act that he held for so long it had me wondering, “how is that even possible”?

According to the Des Moines Performing Arts website, “Les Misérables tells an unforgettable story of heartbreak, passion, and the resilience of the human spirit.”  I found this to be true.

If you’re not familiar with the story, like I was, you should plan to arrive a little early to read the show synopsis in the playbill. I read it and was glad I did.  It really helped me follow along with the story. Had I not read it, I think I might have been a little confused.

The scenery and set changes were impressive. Many happened quickly and silently without me noticing as I was focused on the other action taking place on stage.  There were a few special and visual effects that were so impressive they rivaled anything I’ve ever seen on stage before.

The scenery was based on the painting of Victor Hugo, author of the novel this musical was adapted from.

If you’re attending a  performance of Les Misérables you should plan to get there early because the show starts promptly on time.

It’ll also give you time to review the synopsis in the playbill, like previously mentioned, if you aren’t familiar with the storyline or need a refresher.

 Les Misérables, part of the Willis Broadway Series, at Des Moines Performing Arts runs April 17 through April 22, 2018.  You can learn more about the show and get tickets here.

Are you a Les Miz fan? What are your favorite thoughts, moments, or music from the show?

***I was provided with press night tickets for the show to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.***

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