Tuesday, April 07, 2015

One More Day, in One More Place, 'Les Misérables' Amazes and Delights -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Les Misérables
Paramount Theatre, Aurora
Through April 26

Les Misérables isn't quite my all-time favorite Broadway musical.

That would be The Producers.

But not only is Les Miz my second favorite musical, I consider it the greatest musical ever created.

I have now seen it onstage 11 times, including on Broadway, in London's West End and on multiple national tours through Chicago.

The show continues to run in London as it has non-stop since 1985, and still doing boffo touring business--albeit of late with a somewhat revamped production--Les Misérables is again running on Broadway, where it originally ran from 1987 to 2003.

While original producer Cameron Mackintosh still retains the rights, and thus commercial control over the London, Broadway, touring and other "official" versions of Les Miz, since 2008 the show has been licensed for regional productions, meaning that local theaters that obtain the rights can stage Les Misérables on their own, rather than merely presenting Mackintosh's touring rendition. (There is also now a school version of Les Misérables, and I saw a stellar high school production a few years back.)

Photo Credit on all: Charles Osgood
Given that I saw official tour productions in Chicago as recently in 2011 & 2012, went to Les Miz in London in 2013 and could have seen the show in New York just over a week ago, it may seem not only unnecessary for me to see a regional version, but comparatively unsatisfying.

But not only do I love the music of Les Misérables enough to sufficiently (if not significantly) enjoy any well-sung version despite scaled-down scenery, two previous regional versions I've seen--in 2008 at the Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire and just last May at Drury Lane Oakbrook--have been so well performed and staged that they compare strongly in my memory against even Broadway and London renditions.

And the latest local production, at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora--a venue of a size, age and grandeur to rival those in New York, London and downtown Chicago--is absolutely majestic, with an ingenious new stage design to accompany excellent performances throughout.

While the concept of a turntable stage, one that slyly keeps the show's many scenes moving seamlessly while visually echoing the revolutionary themes, dates back to the original production of Les Miz, scenic designer Kevin Depinet--working with director Jim Corti--has concocted a revolving cylinder with a staircase and ringed balcony connected to it.

This stage-piece, including exterior panels with archways, rotated to make for various sets on the interior of the cylinder, allows for Les Misérables to be done in Aurora in a way in which I've never seen it. It's a shame the whole run is only 5 weeks, given the obvious cost and construction that went into the unique stage.

Given the accolades for the material I shared above, I won't waste time & space summarizing nor trumpeting the qualities of Les Misérables itself, but much to the credit of the Paramount Theatre and all involved, seeing the show in Aurora does not provide any less of a "full Les Miz" experience than seeing it downtown, on Broadway or in London.

Perhaps Robert Wilde seemed a bit younger than most other Jean Valjeans I've seen, but forgetting my binoculars largely rendered this moot, and as with the entire cast, Wilde is well-sung.

Having seen them many times in other roles around Chicagoland, I especially enjoyed seeing Rod Thomas powerfully voice the policeman Javert, and George Keating make for a devilishly-enjoyable Thérnardier, the innkeeper.

And in reprising the role he also played last year at Drury Lane Oakbrook, Travis Taylor as Enjolras reiterates that he is the best male singer on the Chicago area theater scene.

Devin DeSantis makes for a fine Marius and the women are also quite good, including Hannah Corneau as Fantine, Marya Grandy (Madame Thénardier), Erica Stephan (Cosette) and Lillie Cummings (Eponine).

There really isn't anything I found lacking in this production--save perhaps for some slight lyrical & dialogue edits that weren't largely detrimental--and much that I found truly fantastic.

Whether you're a Les Misérables aficionado like me who looks forward to every worthwhile production--and so far none I've seen hasn't been--or someone who has never seen the musical on stage and wants a first-class introduction, this is a resplendent opportunity to catch it if getting to Aurora isn't too formidable a barricade.

I'll never get tired of hearing the people sing, especially this well, in such a full-fledged, full-octane production.

And since I'm not opposed to repeating myself, I'll end by gleaning a phrase--referencing the tattooed prison number of Jean Valjean--with which I also praised the Drury Lane Oakbrook production:

Les Misérables at and by the Paramount Theatre in Aurora is absolutely 24601derful!

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