Review "Les Miserables": Enriching Epic Musical Masterpiece

Broadway in Chicago presents

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At Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Music by Claude-Michel Shonberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel
Conducted by Robert Billig
Directed by Lawrence Connor and James Powell
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays at 7:30pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm 
Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm
Thru February 27th
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Three hours includes a fifteen minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

'One day more, another day, another destiny...' 

Sex trafficking, political corruption, prison reform, inadequate healthcare, child abuse, student protests, slum landlords:  Victor Hugo captured life struggles that remain relevant 150 years after he published.  Broadway in Chicago presents Cameron Mackintosh's new 25th Anniversary Production of Boubil and Schonberg's LES MISERABLES.   The third longest-running Broadway production ("Phantom of the Opera" -#1 and "Cats" - #2) and the world's longest-running musical, LES MISERABLES is MY #1 favorite show of all times!  Hugo's prophetic novel is imagined with multiple characters singing distinctive themes.  The story centers around Jean Valjean.  After doing hard-time for bread stealing, Jean Valjean faces ongoing challenges to be indifferent or to be kind.  His choices impact others.  The others' stories intersect to create a phenomenal tale of love and sacrifice for the betterment of someone else. Fantine turns prostitute to save her daughter.  Eponine helps the love of her life find his girlfriend.  Rich college students rally to protest the cruel conditions of the impoverished.  The story engages with heart-wrenching poignancy.  LES MISERABLES is an enriching epic musical masterpiece. 

'I dreamed a dream in times gone by, When hope was high,
And life worth living, I dreamed that love would never die,
I dreamed that God would be forgiving'

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Very early in the show, Betsy Morgan (Fantine) evokes tears with beautifully sung expressions of hope to defeat.  Lawrence Clayton (Jean Valjean) starts soft but gains power.  In the first few scenes, his singing competes with the vibrant and strong orchestra conducted by Robert Billing.  Clayton eventually finds his voice and delivers a shiver-inducing 'Bring Him Home.'  Another standout is Chasten Harmon (Eponine) belting out 'On My Own' with wistful perfection.  In all his solo moments, Andrew Varela (Javert) marvelously commands the stage with fervor.  The entire ensemble is passionately committed to the barricade.  The fast-paced movement keeps the company flowing into the next scene.   Interspersed comedic moments provide breaks from the dramatic intensity. The chorus climaxes the first act with a rousing 'One Day More' that sends the audience into intermission with optimistic hopes for a historical reprieve.  

The traditional touring production of LES MIZ has utilized a rotating stage to emphasize the evolution of characters, the circle of life and logistically it was probably easier for the rapid-paced action.  The new-created staging uses visual projections to show movement and placement.  The imagery is derived from portraits by Victor Hugo.  The symmetry has its only circle-of-life symbolism.  Using a virtual reality dimensionality, the illustrations intrigue especially during a river plunge and sewer travels.  The rotating stage is missed during a vital moment.  Not to spoil anything, let's just say a wheelbarrow doesn't have the same impact.

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Completely sung, it's as impressive as an opera but regular folks can sing the entire score.  For me,  that's the big challenge!   This was my fourth time seeing LES MIZ and millionth time listening to the score.  Being swept up in the emotional, multiple tragedies with glimmers of true kindness, I almost chimed in...on many occasions.  Fortunately for the audience, I controlled my urges.  That's the beauty of LES MIZ you connect with characters on a personal level.  My dad relates most to Enjolras, the guy on the barricade without back-up.  'Who am I?'  I use to connect with Fantine, gal falling for the wrong guy. Then it was Eponine, gal falling for the nice guy who loves another. As I age, I bond more to Jean Valjean, a person going down different paths to optimize my journey.  150 years later, the story is identifiable.  25 years later, the music enthralls to the point of stifled spontaneous audience participation.  (Dear Cameron Mackintosh, I would love a sing-along performance!) 1862-2011, what are you waiting for?  Missing this production of LES MISERABLES will make you miserable!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes...
Tomorrow comes!

Production photography courtesy of Deen Van Meer.


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