See the revolution over dinner
all due respect to Mao Zedong, The Chanhassen Dinner Theatre has
turned the revolution of 1832 in Paris into a dinner party and it’s
a very satisfactory dinner, a lovely party and a good reading of
Their current production of “Les Miserables” gives us
a stripped-down but highly charged version of probably the most
popular play in the last 20 years. On one level it is the story
of Jean Valjean and his pursuit by Javert. Valjean has served 19
years on a chain gang for trying to steal a loaf of bread. After
completing his sentence, he is required by law to identify himself
as an ex-convict to employers and anyone else with whom he must
do business. He quickly finds himself homeless and out of work.
He changes his name and becomes a successful businessman, but Javert,
the agent of the police, pursues him and wants to send him back
to prison for illegally hiding his identity.
But Victor Hugo’s novel is not called
Jean Valjean, it is called “Les Miserables” (The Miserable
Ones). Outcasts, prostitutes, orphans in the storm, those brutalized
by poverty are the heroes of this novel. Their conditions are appalling.
Their problems cry for resolution. There is a cry for revolution.
The revolution of 1832 was actually quite successful
for one class of people. Although, on the one hand, it merely changed
monarchal rule by the Bourbon dynasty to monarchal rule by the Orleans
branch, there was an important difference. The old aristocrats,
the ancient regime, the rulers forced upon France by a Europe weary
of war, were gone. In their place was a constitutional monarchy.
Many more people had the right to vote. There were civil liberties.
But it was a revolution that didn’t touch the lower classes,
the miserable ones. The bourgeois students couldn’t understand
why the masses didn’t join them at the barricades. But the
masses couldn’t see it as in their interest. Financiers, contractors,
lawyers and the wealthy bourgeoisie would now run the government,
but for those at the bottom that made little difference: plus ca
change, la c’est la même chose—the more things
change, the more they remain the same.
Michael Brindisi has done a remarkable job in adapting Les Miz to
the Chanhassen stage. Instead of the turntable stage of the original,
he uses a constructivist set with bleachers for the actors to sit
when they’re not in the action and small pieces of furniture
to suggest different scenes. To suggest the passage of time, at
the end of one scene Thomas Schumacher, as Jean Valjean, takes a
gray hairpiece out of his pocket and puts it on, and the new scene
begins 15 years later.
This style of production puts more emphasis
on the actors, and the Chanhassen ensemble, under Brindisi’s
direction, carries it off wonderfully. Keith Rice is in particularly
good voice as Javert. We’ve seen him in romantic and comic
roles, but in this dramatic role he reaches new heights. Zoe Pappas
is great as Eponine, and when she stands at the gateway to eternity
she is the symbol of liberty that inspired the continued revolutions
of the miserable ones in nineteenth century France. Ali Littrell
gives the character of Cosette enough subtlety and contradiction
to make what could be saccharine into something substantial and
“Les Miserables” is scheduled to run through October
2007. It plays nightly Tuesday through Sunday, with matinees on
Wednesdays and Saturdays. Ticket prices for dinner and show range
from $52 to $72 per person. Show only ticket range is $40 to $60
per person. To order tickets, call 952-934-1525 or order online