By Barry Reszel
When it comes to Les Misérables, musical theatre patrons fall into two camps.
The first includes those who put Les Mis in their top-five, will see any production they might be able to attend and are ready to take to the barricade to defend their ranking against anyone who might question it. The second camp…well, its members are the unlucky few who have yet to take in a wonderful production of the perfect musical.
Fortunately for constituents in both camps, Broadway in Chicago’s soaring touring edition is ready for and deserving of their presence at the Cadillac Palace through July 27.
The well-known story centers on 19th Century French fugitive Jean Valjean, who broke parole to have a chance at a better life, and his pursuer, the self-righteous Inspector Javert, who seeks to enforce the letter of the law. A full plot synopsis and history of the 1987 Tony Award-winning Best Musical may be read here.
Broadway in Chicago’s updated touring version is based on 2014’s Broadway revival. Co-directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell, it’s newly staged and orchestrated, with sets hearkening the artistic talents of the story’s original author, Victor Hugo. The stage is gorgeously adorned with dazzling projections by Set and Image Designer Matt Kinley and fabulous lighting by Paule Constable.
Greater still than the intriguing environment created inside Chicago’s gorgeous Cadillac Palace and the interesting costumes by Andreané Neofitou and Christine Rowland) is the music; as soon as the dramatic first notes are heard, there is no doubt the star of this production is Claude-Michel Schönberg‘s (music) and Herbert Kretzmer‘s (lyrics) lustrous songbook. Accompanied by Music Director Brian Eads and his brilliant 14-member orchestra, the stellar 38-person cast impeccably signs through new musical arrangements by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker, adding an updated touch without sacrificing a thing. Instead, quite to the contrary, they are a reminder that all musicals, but this one in particular, are first about the music.
While plaudits abound onstage, two in particular deserve special mention. Nick Cartell gives a memorably magnificent performance as Jean Valljean. He exudes all the necessary tenderness for his characterization with a masterfully-controlled baritone/tenor including an easily-beckoned falsetto used most effectively on a tear-jerking performance in, note-for note, the best song in the world’s musical theatre canon, “Bring Him Home.”
So, too, Paige Smallwood as Éponine angelically sings the character’s signature song to open Act 2, “On My Own.” It is an effortlessly dazzling rendition that audiences will not soon forget. And a shout-out to Patrick Rooney, graduate of Roosevelt’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, who has performed on many Chicagoland stages. He is representative of the entire stellar ensemble of magical triple threats.
All said, this wondrous show is a delight for all, sharing its eternal message that “to love another person is to see the face of God.” Don’t miss this chance to see Les Misérables.
Broadway in Chicago presents “Les Misérables” through July 27 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W Randolph Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.