Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Repeatedly Brilliant: Again in Chicago, 'Les Misérables' Remains a Perpetual Delight -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Les Misérables
Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru July 27

Do what brings you joy, as often as you can.

Seems a rather sage philosophy, one that everyone should theoretically be able to agree on.

And even in keeping this to specific things, done during waking hours, we probably all have things we’ve done quite happily and repeatedly.

Such as “I’ve seen Star Wars 87 times” or “I’ve been to 120 Chicago Bears games” or “I’ve eaten Lou Malnati’s pizza at least 5 times a year for over 30 years,” with only the latter potentially being true in my case.

So when I share that I’ve now seen Les Misérables live onstage 13 times, it might sound odd or exorbitant, but probably not next to your frequent pursuits.

And in the realm of theater, it’s less than I’ve seen The Producers, the only show I consider more of a favorite. And it’s far fewer than the 50 times I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen in concert, and less than a few other cherished acts.

But Les Misérables, the musical itself as well as most productions I’ve seen, is absolutely
phenomenal and I won’t apologize for seeing it any chance I get.

A friend I worked with some years ago, who was older then than I am now, had impressed me by saying she’d seen Les Mis over 20 times, but now it doesn’t seem crazy--in a certain parlance--that I might one day catch her, unless she has continued to attend (I've lost touch).

So, yes, on Sunday night I saw Les Misérables once again, at the Cadillac Palace in Chicago.

This came just 21 months after I last saw it at the same venue, with several of the same touring cast members. 

Then, as now and most times I’ve seen any production of the show--even locally-generated ones--I awarded a full @@@@@. And I posited, “What can I say about Les Misérables, the musical, that I haven't said before?”

So I’m not going to make this an in-depth review.

The show remains phenomenal in all the ways it should. Even with an understudy--Christopher Viljoen--playing the lead character, Jean Valjean, in place of Nick Cartell, who I saw last time. Even without the famed stage turntable of old, and some other downsizing measures (it’s still a bigger physical production than almost any other touring musical). Even with my having a limited view seat--a bargain off to the far right side of Orchestra Row H--while fighting a cold, terribly sore throat and a bit of fatigue.

Though Viljoen isn’t the most powerfully-voiced Jean Valjean I’ve heard--including Hugh Jackman, who played the role in the 2013 movie version and sang some songs in his recent concert--he was quite good, particularly on “Bring Them Home.”

Running through several of the musical’s other great songs… Mary Kate Moore (as Fantine) is terrific on “I Dreamed a Dream,” Jimmy Smagula and Allison Gunn (the Thenadiers) are a hoot on “Master of the House,” Josh Davis (Javert) delivers a sparkling “Stars,” Joshua Grosso and Jillian Butler (Marius and Cosette) pair on a poignant “A Heart Full of Love,” Paige Smallwood (Eponine) emotes wonderfully on “On My Own” and Matt Shingledecker (Enjolras) helps power several fantastic choral numbers, such as “The People’s Song.”

Several performers carried over from 2017, while some are new(er) to the ongoing tour.

Notably, the performance I saw on Sunday came just “One Day More” after the original production closed in London after 34 years.

It’s not really leaving the West End, just taking a hiatus while the Queen’s Theatre gets renovated--and renamed the Sondheim Theatre--but I believe it will henceforth be akin to this touring production, directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell.

Thus, no more turntable anywhere--which I had seen in the original Broadway production in 1998 and in London in 2018--but there’s nothing wrong with putting a new spin, or lack thereof, on things.

With or without comparison to any others, the current touring production of Les Miserables, in Chicago for two more weeks, is brilliant in every way.

Though I prefer The Producers as a personal favorite, I believe Les Miserables is the greatest work of musical theater ever created, and it remains phenomenal.

I recently saw stellar Chicago productions of my 3rd & 4th favorite musicals--West Side Story, now closed at Lyric Opera, and The Music Man, recently opened at Goodman Theater--and while both reiterated how sumptuous their source material is, neither got it as richly right as this touring Les Miz.

So if you’ve never seen the musical onstage, by all means, do so.

And if you have, there’s nothing wrong--and a whole lot right--with seeing it yet again.

And again.

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