If you want to pull out all the stops to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a theatrical institution — and clearly that is what Drury Lane Oakbrook had in mind this season — “Les Miserables” is unquestionably the show to stage.
In many respects, this immensely challenging grand-scale work by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil is just about the closest you can get to grand opera without wholly stepping out of the musical theater zone.
As its creators once told me: “This is the show that will last, in large part because of Victor Hugo’s book.” And indeed, the story has everything: The tension between true justice and compassion, as opposed to the rigors of the law; the ugliness of greed contrasted with the often bitter sacrifices made for basic survival; the redeeming value of mercy and love. And now, as so many young “revolutionaries” are on the ramparts worldwide, the quest for freedom that also animates “Les Mis” seems particularly timely.
Yet it is the score — and the actors and musicians capable of making it soar — that is the real key here.
Directed by Rachel Rockwell, with music direction by Roberta Duchak, this Drury Lane production is notable for its overall vocal lushness, and for the altogether ravishing sound that emerges from the pit, where conductor Ben Johnson elicits a fitting opera house grandeur from his orchestra. Rockwell’s often imaginative casting also has many payoffs.
Vocally, Ivan Rutherford (whose 2,000 Broadway and touring performances as Jean Valjean seems to have left his voice a bit worn), is at his best in the show’s quieter, more poignant moments. It is Valjean’s nemesis, police inspector Javert (the volcanic-voiced Quentin Earl Darrington), who holds the spotlight, even if wiring him for flight for his suicide scene is misguided. To the role of Fantine, Jennie Sophia brings a naturalness, but something less than ideal pipes. (All three of the leads struggle with unfortunate wigs.)
As the Thenardiers, those monstrously craven but wildly theatrical criminals, Mark David Kaplan and Sharon Sachs make a grand pair, supplying spectacular comic relief. The exceptionally handsome Travis Taylor makes a magnificent, clarion-voiced Enjolras, the leading revolutionary. And Skyler Adams (as his comrade, Marius), and Emily Rohm (as Cosette), beautifully meld their voices as the young lovers.
Christina Nieves, so wonderful in Paramount’s “In the Heights,” brings heart, truth and a beautiful voice to Eponine, the girl who would do anything for Marius. And young Matthew Uzarraga seizes the spotlight to irresistible effect as that indomitable street urchin, Gavroche.
Scott Davis’ grandly architectural set combines with Sage Marie Carter’s handsome projections and Greg Hofmann’s lighting to conjure the world of 19th century Paris in this show that will have “one day more” for many years to come.