At the barricade

A newly imagined ‘Les Miz’ is just as grand, less operatic

09.LesMiserables-US-Enjolras-CROP

OCCUPY PARIS | ‘Les Miz’s’ theme of proletarian revolt resonates as strongly as the thrilling score.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Chances are if you have ever seen Les Miserables, you think that it is either the greatest musical ever conceived, or precisely what’s wrong with musical theater since Mary Martin retired from playing a pre-pubescent boy. Of course, it’s possible both are true.

Detractors claim the musical — adapted from Victor Hugo’s massive novel about a thief, Jean Valjean (J. Mark McVey) pursued relentlessly by obsessive Inspector Javert (Andrew Varela)  — slogs through French history with bombastic pretension and repetitive musical motifs. Admirers — whom I happily number myself among, and have ever since I saw the original London production 25 years ago — fall sway to its sweep, its Big Themes, its thrilling score. And the ideas that right wingers can’t beat down the common man forever and get away with it resonate especially strongly even today. There’s no way you can see Les Miz and not think the distinction between musical and opera is all but irrelevant.

You might feel differently, though, with the current national tour, now at the Winspear. It reconceives the original with mind-blowing rear projection (Valjean’s escape through the sewers of Paris is as cinematic as anything I’ve seen on a stage; Javert’s suicide is a technical marvel) and a more intimate, almost claustrophobic staging. The show is still grand, though it feels less like grand opera.

That’s also a side effect of the singing, which has been modified from the rich, fluid style of the original to a more conversational, pop sensibility. It’s almost as if the creative team figured everyone already knew the songs and wanted to give them a more radio-friendly, Susan Boyle-ish treatment. That may be arresting only to nerds like me who can recite the score by heart, but I bet there are a lot of us out there.

Even so, the “money songs” — especially Valjean’s haunting “Bring Him Home,” that ravaged the house on opening night, and the Act 1 finale, though also Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” and Eponine’s “On My Own” — are as stirring and flamboyant as they ever were, and the bawdy “Master of the House” remains a comic gem.

The latter is due in great part to Richard Vida and Shawna M. Hamic (looking like Edna Turnblad) as the Thenardiers, whose comic mugging steals scenes, and McVey’s Valjean grows in depth and power throughout the three hour run-time.

But the length is almost inconsequential. Les Miz, of necessity, rushes through great swaths of emotions, and it’s occasionally difficult to toggle through them; your heart can’t keep up with your head. But when it does? Well, that’s when Les Miz is as touching as a musical can be.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Black Tie 2011 set to ‘Shine’

Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis

Co-chairs announce theme for this year’s event, say more changes will be unveiled soon

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Black Tie co-chairs Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis this week announced the theme for the 30th annual Black Tie Dinner, set for Nov. 12 at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel. This year’s theme is short and sweet: “Shine.”

“Even though it is our 30th year, instead of focusing on this as an anniversary and looking back at where we’ve been, we want to focus on this being a celebration of where we are headed for the future,” said Arnold.

“We are really excited about this theme, about the idea of ‘shining’ a light on our future. And we think our creative team can do a lot with this theme,” she said.

Kouvelis added, “This theme will also be shining a light on our beneficiaries, too, and all the great work that they do in our community.”

Arnold and Kouvelis said that members of the Black Tie Dinner board are currently reviewing the more than 20 beneficiary applications the organization received this year.

Board members will then meet on Saturday, March 20, to choose the organizations that will share in the proceeds from this year’s fundraising dinner, and the names of those selected will be announced Thursday, March 31, during Black Tie’s annual Tarrant County reception, being held this year at American Airlines’ C.R. Smith Museum, 4601 Hwy. 360.

The co-chairs said planning for the 30th annual dinner is moving along smoothly, and that the board is reaching certain planning goals even earlier than usual. By early February, the board had already finalized deals for GameStop to once again be presenting sponsor for the dinner, and for Park Place Motorcars Dallas to sponsor the vehicle — a new Mercedes C 300 S coupe — for the dinner’s annual car raffle.

This week, Arnold and Kouvelis said that Diamond Jacks Casino in Shreveport/Bossier City has also already agreed to return as a sponsor.

“We just found out that they will come back this year at least at that same level, and they are going to sponsor our table captain dinner again this year,” Arnold said. “Diamond Jacks may also be helping us out with a couple of other things. They have been just wonderful to work with.”

Sales for the raffle tickets for the Mercedes C 300 S coupe are moving along at a brisk pace, and the co-chairs said having the dinner’s online system up and running has made raffle ticket sales — and other processes so much easier.

“You can buy those raffle tickets online art BlackTie.org. In fact, our online system is up and running for everything this year,” Arnold said. “This is really the first year that you can do everything you need to do for Black Tie online. ”

Black Tie has gone high-tech in other areas, too, the co-chairs said, including the silent auction, which will be “a little different this year. People can really expect the auction to be more interactive this year,” Arnold said.

Kouvelis said he is working on partnering with “a couple of our sponsors” to increase Black Tie’s marketing, especially in the area of incorporating social media into the process.

“We are really excited about the opportunities with see in this area,” he said. “This will give us the chance to increase participation and even change the demographic of who attends Black Tie. That’s what we have to do to keep the event growing.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Concert Notice: Kylie Minogue at Verizon in May

Kylie Minogue has been plugging her non-North American tour mostly, but she’s finally announced the U.S. leg of her tour with one stop in Dallas. OK, Grand Prairie to be exact. Pre-sale tix for the U.S. leg go on sale to the public Jan. 22. Her North American dates will be presented by Logo TV, so this could be the gayest concert of the year — so far.

“The reaction to Aphrodite has been absolutely incredible and has inspired me and my creative team to develop a new show that will take all of us on a euphoric journey of joy, excitement and glamour.  I can’t wait to get on the road and see all my fans in 2011,” said Minogue.

Euphoric? Whoa.

—  Rich Lopez