Review: 'Les Mis' touring production lacks passion it needs

12:36 PM, May 09, 2013

Les Miserables is at the Auditorium Theatre through Sunday. (DEEN VAN MEER/Photo provided by RBTL)/

Written By Marcia Morphy

The dream lives on, but the chain of emotions that makes one of the world’s most beloved musicals a thundering success is understated in the 25th anniversary touring production now playing at the Auditorium Center.

This Les Miserables adds more misery to the miserable — barricading the passion and the raw, hungry intensity it’s known for.

Based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, the epic tale takes place in post-revolutionary France with a line-up of melodramatic characters. There’s prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean, who is released from prison and breaks parole, a merciful bishop who saves him from local police, the ruthless Inspector Javert who relentlessly searches for him and the dying prostitute Fantine who begs Valjean to be guardian of her illegitimate daughter Cosette. In the mix are a triangle of star-crossed lovers and a stage-filled with impassioned student revolutionaries.

Although the story is now 150 years old, it continues to reverberate with our own lives and helps to illuminate our vulnerability and humanity. And for a stage production, entirely sung, you need a powerful cast that can probe each intricate beat of every tormented soul. That doesn’t always happen here.

Peter Lockyer’s portrayal of Valjean seemed wooden and tightly wound, and early on in his “Who Am I” solo, the lyrics were undecipherable. He reached redemption near the finale with a superb, haunting rendition of “Bring Him Home.”

As Javert, you might expect Andrew Varela to have a take-no-prisoners, menacing swagger, but he remains slightly in the shadows like a benevolent Dark Man — finally coming out in his crowd-pleasing solo of “Stars.”

In operatic form, Genevieve Leclerc portrays a haunting Fantine with “I Dreamed a Dream,” and Lauren Wiley captures the sweet essence of Cosette. But the supporting cast who steal their thunder.

Brianna Carlson-Goodman was a powerhouse as the unwanted Eponine, and her belting of “On My Own,” followed by a heartrending “A Little Fall of Rain” with love interest Marius (a masterful Devin Ilaw), was the only one to perform a tearjerker. Enjolras (leader of the resistance) also seems shuffled off like a minor league character, which is too bad because Jason Forbach has the voice, looks and passionate moves of a leading man and could easily star as Valjean.

And, of course, there’s the rousing duo The Thenardiers (Shawna M. Hamic and Timothy Gulan) who offer plenty of comic relief in “Master of the House.” Overblown as it is, it’s still a delight to watch.

There is beauty in this production, but it is an impersonal, distant and a ghostly adaptation compared with other versions I’ve seen on stage. And I desperately missed the iconic, revolving turntable platform where brilliant individual images of battle were fought.

What one carries away from Les Miserables is the dignity of one man and the historical forces over which he has no control — poverty, philosophy, justice, religion, politics, love.

Perhaps this show is not something to be judged, but to be acknowledged and understood.

Carry on, Les Mis. Carry on.