A musical-theater masterpiece celebrating the 30th anniversary of Chicagoland’s most elegant venue, led by a top-five area director with a multi-talented cast.
That is Drury Lane Theatre’s “Les Misérables.”
For those whose introduction to “Les Mis” came via the much-hyped 2012 motion picture, Director Rachel Rockwell’s stunning, classical stage presentation is a reminder that musicals are first about the music.
It’s particularly true for those achieving iconical status like this one, based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel set to the book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, music by Schönberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer.
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.
Greater than the interesting costumes and sets (they are), intriguing lighting (it is) and staging so well designed and executed it appears at times the cast is modeling for a grand painting, is the truth that this production is first about the delicious songbook.
Plaudits abound, beginning with the two male leads featuring juxtaposed singing styles. Ivan Rutherford (Valljean for the umpteenthousandth time professionally) exudes all the necessary tenderness for his characterization. His masterfully-controlled baritone/tenor includes an easily-beckoned falsetto that he tries out at times before using in earnest when he convinces God to comply with his imploring “Bring Him Home.”
And any man who hears Quentin Earl Darrington’s (Javert) gorgeous, deep bass intone “Stars” and doesn’t pause a moment to think, “I would do almost anything to sing like this man,” cannot call himself a true patron of the arts.
By themselves, these two talents have to make this “Les Mis” gig easier for Jeff Award-winning Music Director Roberta Duchak than her last, when she served as Russell Crowe’s and Hugh Jackman’s vocal coach for the film version.
But the leads are not alone in their excellence. Stunning performances come from local starlets Christina Nieves (Éponine) and Emily Rohm (Cosette). Nieves’ “On My Own” is a dazzling, effortless rendition rivaling Samantha Barks’ best-performed song in the movie version. Rohm’s exquisite operatic voice is featured in “A Heart Full of Love “ and “In My Life.”
Veteran national actor David Girolmo proves Stanislavsky’s “no small parts” stage adage with a memorable portrayal of the Bishop of Digne. Both Girolmo and fellow stage veteran George Keating (also the production’s associate director) lead the talented ensemble of young revolutionaries, where Travis Taylor as head rebel Enjolras particularly shines.
Mark David Kaplan and Sharon Sachs (M. and Mme. Thénardier) milk every laugh out of the best comic couple written for the stage, particularly in the rousing “Master of the House.” Finally, Matthew Uzarraga (opening night’s Gavroche) performs with a confident star quality reflecting his already impressive resume rather than his obvious youth.
Together, Drury’s stars in their multitudes fill the darkness with order and light. And when that happens, fortunate patrons of their impeccable production are brought to believe, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
“Les Misérables” runs through June 8 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, less than a one-hour drive from all North Shore suburbs. Parking is complimentary. Information and tickets ($45-$60 with additional dinner packages and senior and student discounts for some shows) are available online or by phone at 630-530-0111.
Barry Reszel is a Libertyville-based writer, at-home dad and executive director of the not-for-profit entertainment company Liberty Town Productions.