'Les Miserables' is back -- and it's magnificent

  • Nick Cartell stars as Jean Valjean, a man harshly sentenced for a minor crime, in the splendid touring production of "Les Miserables" at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.

    Nick Cartell stars as Jean Valjean, a man harshly sentenced for a minor crime, in the splendid touring production of "Les Miserables" at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • Javert (Josh Davis), left, warns the soon-to-be-released prisoner Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell) not to violate his parole in "Les Miserables," the beloved musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil. It's at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through Oct. 29.

    Javert (Josh Davis), left, warns the soon-to-be-released prisoner Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell) not to violate his parole in "Les Miserables," the beloved musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil. It's at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through Oct. 29. Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • To the dismay of Eponine (Phoenix Best), center, Marius (Joshua Grosso) is smitten with Cosette (Jillian Butler) in Laurence Connor and James Powell's refreshed production of the musical "Les Miserables" at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.

    To the dismay of Eponine (Phoenix Best), center, Marius (Joshua Grosso) is smitten with Cosette (Jillian Butler) in Laurence Connor and James Powell's refreshed production of the musical "Les Miserables" at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

  • Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker, with raised arm) leads the student uprising in "Les Miserables," running through Oct. 29 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

    Enjolras (Matt Shingledecker, with raised arm) leads the student uprising in "Les Miserables," running through Oct. 29 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

 
 
Updated 10/18/2017 6:08 AM

"Les Miserables" -- ★ ★ ★

In 2010, 25 years after it debuted, a new "Les Miserables" emerged.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Victor Hugo's melodramatic, 19th century French tale of redemption and obsession remained intact. The newly orchestrated score by Claude-Michel Schonberg was still lush. But gone was the iconic turntable symbolizing time's inevitable march and fortune's inevitable turn which accompanied London and Broadway productions and at least a half dozen tours.

In this artfully refreshed 25th anniversary revival from 2010, Laurence Connor (sharing directing credit with James Powell) replaced the revolving stage with scenery and projections inspired by Hugo's paintings. Their production, which played Chicago several years ago, has returned. And it is magnificent.

The visually arresting show pairs set designer Matt Kinley's towering structures and imposing barricade with Fifty-Nine Productions' painterly projections (used to fine effect during the sewer chase) and Paule Constable's moody, chiaroscuro lighting.

Impressive as all that is, what sustains "Les Miserables" is Schonberg's romantic, always-stirring, sung-through score. (The lyrics are by Herbert Kretzmer from Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel's French text.)

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The anthemic "People's Song" (whose message of resistance resonates today more than ever) and the majestic "One Day More" are crafted to stir the soul and quicken the pulse.

This splendidly sung production does exactly that. Accompanied by conductor Brian Eads' vigorous, 15-person orchestra, it boasts exceptional leads in Nick Cartell and Josh Davis. Cartell plays Jean Valjean, who is imprisoned for 19 years for stealing bread. He breaks his parole and is pursued by Inspector Javert (Davis), whose concept of justice excludes mercy.

Cartell's emotional depth and powerful lyric baritone on Valjean's soul-searching "Who Am I?" make for one of the production's most gripping moments. But Cartell surpassed himself in the second act with a showstopping performance of the hymn-like "Bring Him Home" that was sheer perfection.

He is ideally matched with the equally masterful Davis, who earned sustained applause with his fervent "Stars."

Matt Shingledecker earns kudos for his hopeful, heroically sung turn as Enjolras, leader of the student rebels, whose number includes the earnest Marius (Joshua Grosso). Marius divides his loyalties between the cause and the lovely Cosette (a winsome Jillian Butler), daughter of the doomed Fantine (a most affecting Melissa Mitchell) whom Valjean has raised as his own.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Phoenix Best is Marius' long-suffering admirer Eponine, daughter of the larcenous Thenardiers, played with exceptional bawdiness by J. Anthony Crane and Allison Guinn.

Not all the performances have the emotional depth of Cartell and Davis and some lyrics are lost to an occasionally overpowering orchestra. But those are minor points in this wisely staged, beautifully executed revival.

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Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago. (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 29

Running time: Two hours, 55 minutes with intermission

Tickets: $55-$180

Parking: Paid lots nearby

Rating: For teens and older, includes violence and sexual situations

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