Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Les Miserables, PlayhouseSquare

Now that Les Miz is available in different forms than on stage, including the old DVD concert version and the spectacular new movie, it may seem redundant to plop down money for a live performance.

But the 25th Anniversary production of the Cameron MacIntosh production, now at the Palace Theatre at PlayhouseSquare reminds one of the power living, breathing actors can bring. Not to mention impressive backdrop scenery inspired by the paintings of the author, Victor Hugo, who started this whole shebang.

And for those who love the film but were left with a bad taste in their mouth from Russell Crowe’s stupendously hollow performance as Inspector Javert, here is your palate cleanser.

In this version, the music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer are voiced with assurance and intensity by the company.

Although he appears to be a bit small for the role of the muscular Jean Valjean, Peter Lockyer grows into those huge shoes and, by the second act, in “Bring Him Home,” he brings down the house.

The same is true for Andrew Varela as Inspector Javert. His powerful rendition of “Stars” will hopefully forever expunge the memory of Crowe’s whisper-singing and his papier-mache-head-on-a-stick acting. Genevieve LeClerc is an adequate if not riveting Fantine, and Devin Ilaw sings robustly as Marius.

There are a couple soft spots. Joseph Spieldenner never quite exudes the slobbering, craven downside of the Innkeeper, while Natalie Beck as his wife almost goes too far in the other direction.

And in this version, the staging of little Gavroche’s death is much less gripping since it happens out of sight.

But as you watch the actors, directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, interact with the moody backdrops, and listen to those familiar songs soar, the small quibbles are reduced to blips.

The movie is fantastic (minus the one exception mentioned above), but there will always be a place for Lex Miz the stage musical, since it connects on a visceral level that nothing else can match.

Les Miserables
Through February 10 at the Palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 1615  Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000

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