These are words that fit this touring production of Les Miserables. This is operatic scale—in story, cast size, vocal range, orchestrations (new), sets, projection design and talents. More, it transports us in a way that feels opera-familiar. You too may find yourself needing to get bearings as you leave Cadillac Palace, feeling for a millisecond or so that you are exiting the Lyric’s hall instead.
It is Victor Hugo’s grand story in his novel of the same name that so ably provides the foundation for this musical spectacle. Grueling poverty, injustice, morality, the romanticism of revolution, unrequited love, parental love, love at first sight, loss and mourning, redemption through religion are some of the novel’s themes that a bevy of well-drawn characters carry mainly through songs. We follow the life journey of a man (Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean) thrown into prison because he stole bread to feed his sister’s starving child, to his religious conversion that animated most of the events in his life and especially his rescue of a child from being exploited by an immoral innkeeper and his wife. It is the wide-eyed image of that street urchin girl that is so engraved in our popular imagination—Little Cosette, the poster girl of Les Miserables for the many decades.
Broadway in Chicago Hosts Returning Tour of One of the World's Longest Running Musicals
Now coming in striking distance of The Fantastiks for moniker of longest running musical ever, this adaptation so effectively gives a feeling of gritty grueling poverty by using Victor Hugo’s own art work as the sets ‘ inspiration (Set and Image Design: Matt Kinley). Visitors to Barcelona’s Maritime Museum might be struck by how similar the opening scene on a prison galley is to the animations that museum features. But it is just a first brief scene of grey and squalor, seeming almost a warmup for the cruelty of brothel, factory foreman and child abusers that follows.
The well-scrubbed faces and clean clothing of the student revolutionaries who take to the barricades to fight for the people emerge from these greys. They are so differently clean and fresh-faced, and in this new adaptation their leader’s countertenor voice (Matt Shingledecker playing Enjolras) seems to highlight their idealism.
In this writer’s opinion, there are so many vocal stars in this production called upon by the score to stretch their range and then stretch it more, that you almost get the auditory equivalent of snow blindness. Super dramatic front of stage solos summons the audience to serial applause and especially the stirring baritone of Josh Davis as bad guy Javert. The other bad guys---Jimmy Smagula as Thénardier and Allison Guinn as his wife Madame Thénardier—who get their share of the prolific use of sticks and bread loaves and such as phallic symbols throughout—are comic reliefs at the same time as being cackling but cartoon evil. For this writer though, the best part of the music was when duets or trios telegraphed the perseverating inner thoughts of the various protagonists in their scenes.
The sheer breadth of the novel that is the story’s core might make it difficult for a newbie to follow. In fact you will likely be struggling to keep up. You might want to read Victor Hugo’s grand oeuvre before you venture to see this show. In this writer’s opinion, however, the musical itself is a far more effective synopsis of the novel than any Cliff Notes or Wikipedia recount can be. If you’ve seen Les Mis before you will be no worse for the wear in seeing this particular re-imagining. The projection designs alone make it well worth the time—the stellar voices and acting prowess of this touring cast enliven the score beyond what any recording can do.
Editor's Note-- Watch this video of last year's tour-- same production, different cast--
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
NICK CARTELL (Jean Valjean); JOSH DAVIS (Javert); JIMMY SMAGULA (Thénardier); ALLISON GUINN (Madame Thénardier). MARY KATE MOORE (Fantine) MATT SHINGLEDECKER; PAIGE SMALLWOOD (Éponine); JOSHUA GROSSO (Marius); JILLIAN BUTLER (Cosette); AUBIN BRADLEY (Little Cosette/Young Éponine); CATE ELEFANTE (Little Cosette/Young Éponine); PARKER DZUBA (Petit Gervais, Gavroche); PARKER WEATHERSBEE (Petit Gervais, Gavroche) JOHN AMBROSINO (Bamatabois, Claquesous, u/s Thénardier); FELIPE BARBOSA BOMBONATO (Farmer, Babet); KELSEY DENAE (Wigmaker, u/s Fantine); OLIVIA DEI CICCHI (Innkeeper’s Wife, u/s Cosette; CAITLIN FINNIE (Ensemble, u/s Cosette); JAMES D. GISH (Laborer, Feuilly, u/s Enjolras) JILLIAN GRAY (Swing); MATT HILL (Grantaire, Major Domo, u/s Thénardier) MONTÉ J. HOWELL (Innkeeper, Combeferre, u/s Javert); STAVROS KOUMBAROS (Joly, u/s Marius); ANDREW LOVE (Champmathieu, Brujon, u/s Javert); ANDREW MAUGHAN (Bishop of Digne, Lesgles, Loud Hailer, u/s Jean Valjean); MAGGIE ELIZABETH MAY (Old Woman); ASHLEY DAWN MORTENSEN (Factory Girl); DARRELL MORRIS, JR. (Constable, Montparnasse, u/s Enjolras); BREE MURPHY (Wigmaker, u/s Madame Thénardier); DOMONIQUE PATON (Ensemble, u/s Éponine); TIM QUARTIER (Swing) TALIA SIMONE ROBINSON (Ensemble, u/s Fantine, u/s Éponine); PATRICK ROONEY (Constable, Fauchelevent, Jean Prouvaire, u/s Marius) BRETT STOELKER (Swing, u/s Enjolras); ADDISON TAKEFMAN (Ensemble, u/s Little Cosette/Young Éponine); KYLE TIMSON (Swing, u/s Factory Foreman, Dance Captain, Fight Captain) CHRISTOPHER VILJOEN (Courfeyrac, u/s Jean Valjean).
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Original Orchestrations and Producer: John Cameron
Original French Text: Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
English lyrics : Herbert Kretzmer from the original French text ; additional material by James Fenton.
Original adaptation: Trevor Nunn and John Caird.
New orchestrations: Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker
Directors: Laurence Connor and James Powell
Designs: Matt Kinley inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo
Costumes: Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland
Lighting: Paule Constable
Sound: Mick Potter
Musical staging: Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt
Projections: Fifty-Nine Productions
Music Supervision: Stephen Brooker and James Moore
Thru July 27, 2019
Tuesdays at 7:30PM
Wednesdays at 2PM & 7:30PM (no matinee performance on July 10) Thursdays at 7:30PM (added 2PM performance on July 25)
Fridays at 7:30PM Saturdays at 2PM & 8PM
Sundays at 2PM (added 7:30PM performance on July 14)
Cadillac Palace Theatre
151 West Randolph
For ticket availability and full price tickets visit the Broadway in Chicago website.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago