By Jamila Pomeroy
VANCOUVER – The musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, may be set in 19th-century France, but performer Nick Cartell, who portrays Jean Valjean in Cameron Mackintosh’s Broadway production, says the story is more than applicable to many situations in today’s global climate.
“Shows like Les Misérables have stood the test of time because people can connect with the story and characters, and then they also walk out of the show humming the same songs, over and over – as they have done for the last 37 years,” Cartell says. “While the story is set in a different time, it truly is about the fight for the human spirit. It’s about people who are trying to make a difference – especially right now in the world that we live in. People are fighting to make the world a better place and people are standing up every day through marches and social media. If this story was taking place today, I truly believe that is what we would be seeing in this story.”
Cartell has performed in shows such as Scandalous: The Musical, Phantom of the Opera, and Frankenstein, but expresses there is something special about Les Misérables.
“I think truly, for me, what the difference is, is the story,” he says. “You know, this is a story that is beloved by so many people because not only do you have fans of the novel, the beautiful work that Victor Hugo wrote – you also have fans of the musical itself and the music.”
Previous set designs of the musical featured a turntable and other technical elements that you won’t see in this version, but Cartell explains that the design has set a new precedent.
“They wanted to re-imagine Les Miz, to make it a more contemporary piece, and they truly have done that,” he says. “We’ve done away with the turntables, but one of the things that we have gained are these incredible images that Victor Hugo actually painted himself.”
Hugo hid his art away because he wanted to be known as an author, rather than an illustrator. His work was based in pen and ink washes, often depicting fluid architecture and the faces of 19th-century France in somber, yet fierce and powerful notions of the revolution. His work was said to be admired by the likes of Van Gogh and Delacroix, and was birthed of strange methodology. Hugo often drew with his left hand, without looking at the page, or through attempted connections with the spirit world – concepts later popularized by Sigmund Freud.
These works will be presented through still and moving shots, something that has never been done in the long history of Les Misérables. We can expect the costuming and remainder of the set to mirror the drama and emotion of his painting, creating a new, more artfully-refined show. This is the beloved Les Misérables, but a version of new great depth and expansive nature – possibly the closest we’ve ever gotten to the heart and mind of Victor Hugo, while simultaneously being ever so applicable to the modern world.
Les Miserables runs from July 10-15 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.