Les Miserables is gripping melodrama and stirring social commentary, even without music

LES MISERABLES adapted by Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour with company, from the novel by Victor Hugo (Theatre Smith Gilmour)..

LES MISERABLES adapted by Michele Smith and Dean Gilmour with company, from the novel by Victor Hugo (Theatre Smith Gilmour). At the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West). Runs to Apr 1. $25-$40. 416-538-0988. See listing. Rating: NNN

Les Miserables, Victor Hugos massive doorstop of a novel about justice, love and forgiveness in 19th century France, is, of course, best known as a musical.

But as Theatre Smith-Gilmour demonstrate in their ambitious if not entirely successful adaptation, Hugos story is still gripping melodrama and stirring social commentary, even without hummable melodies and rousing choruses.

The physical- and clown-based company, known for adapting shorter literary works, apply their spare but imaginative aesthetic to the epic story about the parole-violating former convict Jean Valjean (Dean Gilmour) the relentless inspector on his tail, Javert (Mac Fyfe) the tragic Fantine and her daughter Cosette (both played by Nina Gilmour) and Marius (Benjamin Muir), the student revolutionary who falls in love with the latter.

Some scenes, like the bravura opening in which Dean Gilmour narrates and plays Valjean, a kindly bishop and the police officers who accuse Valjean of stealing the bishops silverware are brilliant, directed by Michele Smith with economy and wit.

Smith and company are very good at theatricalizing small moments, such as when police are about to attack the revolutionaries and the actors, in shadow by lighting designer Simon Rossiter, evoke the cops horses stamping and huffing.

But other scenes merely hit plot points with precis-like dialogue. And the companys use of projections (designed by Elisa Julia Gilmour) to add texture to the barricades sequences doesnt always pay off.

Whats missing is a consistent tone. Having some characters speak into a microphone to reveal their innermost thoughts is intriguing, but its not carried through. And interstitial music appears between some scenes and not others.

But the performances are, as usual with this company, excellent. Dean Gilmour does the plays heavy lifting as a sympathetic, soulful Valjean, but also gets laughs as Mariuss pompous, bewigged grandfather Fyfe is suitably stiff and single-minded as Javert, although hes hamstrung by the characters confusing end Diana Tso brings vivid life to several characters, including lovestruck Eponine and the selfish Mme Thenardier and newcomer Muir creates a lasting impression as the idealistic Marius.

I wish the script had nodded to some of the novels more digressive passages, but then again, the play, at over two-and-a-half hours is already a long show. So perhaps Less Mis is better than more.

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