The thundering swell of the Les Misérables overture would make anyone’s hair stand on end. And three hours later, in a wash of vocals that sound as if the seraphim had been unleashed in the Cadillac Palace Theatre, the rousing impact of the beloved musical—now in its 25th anniversary touring production—hits home with glorious force.
Perhaps you’ve seen the trailer for the Christmas Day film release of Victor Hugo’s sweeping story of crime, punishment, love and death in 19th century Paris. The preview is harnessed to Anne Hathaway’s emotive delivery of “I Dreamed a Dream”, a song that captures all the world’s sorrows. The number is inarguably a blockbuster, but it’s hardly the only rafter-raising, heart-breaking, elation-inducing sonic powerhouse in Les Misérables.
For those new to the tale, Les Mis tells of a manhunt played out against the backdrop of a doomed revolution. In Jean Valjean (Peter Lockyer), the play’s protagonist, the story paints a portrait of rage quelled by basic human goodness. In Inspector Javert (Andrew Varela), we get a man in the throes of obsession and the kind of unyielding moral righteousness that can only lead to the bitterest of downfalls.
This staging also features the resounding tenor of Chicago native Max Quinlan as the student revolutionary Marius. For those who remember Quinlan’s 1994 professional debut at the Marriott Lincolnshire, playing young Erik in Phantom, it’s rewarding to see how he’s grown into both a tremendous singer and a charismatic stage presence.
Make no mistake, this touring production is not one that shoddily cuts corners—as so many sadly do—by getting chintzy with the ensemble and the set; this is Les Mis in all its epic, heart-pounding brilliance. Les Mis the movie might be Oscar bait. Les Mis the 25th anniversary touring production is simply magnificent.
Les Misérables continues through Dec. 2 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph. For ticket information, go to broadwayinchicago.com.
Catey Sullivan is Chicago magazine’s contributing theater critic.
Photograph: Courtesy of Broadway in Chicago