John Cudia ( top ) and Chris Peluso in Les Miserables. Photo by Dan Rest. Playwright: Claude-Michel. Schonberg ( music ) ; Alain Boublil ( book ) ; Herbert Kretzmer, lyrics . At: Marriott Lincolnshire, 10 Marriott, Lincolnshire . Phone: 847-634-0200; $45. Runs through: May 11
About midway through their final act, most musicals let rip with the 11 O'clock song, a five-alarm barnburner intended to both reel the audience for the kill and catapult it through to the finale. These songs are musical rocket launchers, sparingly used deal-closers designed to get everyone on board and that bring 'em on home in a blaze of glory. In Les Miserables, an 11 o'clock song shows up before the first act has even hit the midway point. Listen to the multi-octave slice of tragedy and transcendence that is 'I Dreamed a Dream' and you wonder where the show can possibly go from here—It's 10 seconds to midnight in terms of both emotional intensity and soaring melody.
The answer is ever onward in Claude-Michel Schonberg's ( music ) and Alan Boublil's ( book ) sweeping adaptation of Victor Hugo's sprawling novel. This is a show where virtually every number is a showstopper. From the sewers where twisted entrepreneurs pry the gold fillings from the mouths of corpses to the society ballrooms where rich folk glitter and waltz, Les Miserables cuts an epic swath through 19th-century French history.
The Marriott's efforts to snag the rights to the regional premiere of the production were epic in their own right, beginning years ago when Les Miz was still a fixture on Broadway. Directed by Dominic Missimi, this turntable-free staging is worth every last royalty penny and legal fee the venerable theater shelled out for the show. This is thrilling, emotionally exhausting theater of the finest caliber. And in terms of sheer storytelling, the Marriott's intimate space is a vast improvement over the cavernous halls Les Miz played previously. In Lincolnshire, you can hear every word of every lyric with exquisite clarity.
The thru-line in the densely plotted saga is the to-the-death, through-the-decades dual between Inspector Javert and ex-con Jean Valjean. As Valjean, John Cudia is all charisma radiating through an aura of sorrow, a man of quietly heart-breaking decency scarred by tragedy. Richard Todd Adams' Javert is a predator in policeman's clothing, ruthlessly imprisoned by a white-hot, never resting and utterly malignant sense of morality. His finale soliloquy is a tortured clarion, a gorgeous scream that captures a universe imploding with confusion and fear.
Kathy Voytko, luminous as Fantine, instills the heroine's tragedy with nobility while Anne Letscher, as Eponine, is a haunting portrait of enduring, unendurable loneliness.
The huge supporting cast is an ensemble of riches with the ever-invaluable likes of George Keating and Kevin Barthel making the most of small moments to create a multitude of characters within the ranks of prisoners, peasants, factory workers and doomed student soldiers. When the barricades go up and the guns go off, the stage virtually explodes in a series of stage pictures vivid as blood, frantic and fearsome as a front line under siege.
Vive la revolution!