Oh, “Les Misérables,” will I ever be free of you?
It seems like every couple of years you show up on my doorstep, demanding three hours of my life. It’s like that story about the police officer who chased an escaped convict around for decades over a stolen loaf of bread. What was the name of that story?
At any rate, a mere 10 months after their last stage appearance in St. Louis and eight months after their big screen musical debut, Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert have returned. But this time it was on The Muny stage and I’ve never seen “Le Miz” at The Muny, so I figured it was worth braving the heat, humidity and the dreaded 5 p.m. spot thunderstorms.
There are few stage productions as stirring as “Les Misérables,” especially when you have the right cast and crew. And a stellar lineup was brought in to put this one together. Directing the show is Richard Jay-Alexander, who staged the original Broadway production. Directing the orchestra is Kevin Stites, whose credits include music director and conductor for the 25th Anniversary National Tour of “Les Misérables.”
At this point I’ll spare you the usual plot synopsis as it takes up two pages of small print in the program and besides you probably already know the story anyway. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo it’s a story about faith and justice and injustice and hard times and young love and unrequited love and obnoxious, bothersome innkeepers and revolution. Something for almost everyone.
The show boasts a tremendous cast which may not have big names like Hugh Jackman or Anne Hathaway but they have big voices and powerful stage presence. Norm Lewis is terrific as Javert. If you only know “Le Miz” through the movie, let me put it this way — Go see this show, and when Lewis is singing “By The Stars,” you’ll understand why so many were so disappointed in Russell Crowe.
Hugh Panaro delivers an equally impressive performance as Jean Valjean, a challenging role that he performs masterfully. The show also features fine performances by Michael McCormick and Tiffany Green as the troublemaking Thénardiers.
In an inspired bit of casting, many of the younger performers were chosen from more than 1,000 college theater students. Among them: Lindsey Mader (University of Oklahoma) as Eponine, Charlotte Maltby (University of Michigan) as Fantine, Alex Prakken (University of Michigan) as Marius, Bobby Thornton (University of Michigan) as Enjolras and Katie Travis (Central Michigan University) as Cosette. Apparently there’s a lot of talent in Michigan.
I may have seen this show more than a half-dozen times but it’s always worth seeing, especially with the right cast and musical talent.
“Les Misérables” runs through July 21. http://muny.org/