Often, I am asked ” How can you see the same shows, over and over?”. The answer is very simple! Every production is unique and very different. Yes, the script is that which was written by the playwright, but the type of stage, the director, the tech and of course the talent will bring to the production, a different and unique translation/interpretation, and therefore seeing a new production can often feel like seeing a new play. Last night’s opening of the final show of this year’s season at The Paramount Theatre in Aurora of “Les Miserables” is a shining example of the aforementioned statement. Under the skillful eye of Jim Corti, an amazing eye, indeed, this production from the very start will captivate your eyes, your heart and your soul into the tale that Victor Hugo first penned as a novel, which was later made into many films and then with the music of Claude Michel Schoenberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and a book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg , became the Tony Award winning “Les Miz”!
This is the story of a man who was sent to prison for stealing bread to feed his starving family, Jean Valjean (Robert Wilde in a wonderful portrayal, who shows off his vocal range to the nth degree) and his trail to redemption. This is early 19th Century France, and includes the French Revolution as a sub-plot to the search for his redemption for the crime he had committed. Corti has assembled a strong cast of players with some of the richest voices in Chicago to bring this amazing production to his stage. I truly feel, although he has shared directorial duties with others handling some of the shows, that this stage IS in fact HIS stage, in that he is the man who brought theater back to The Paramount in the perfect way!
Let’s start with the stage. The Paramount has a high ceiling and instead of doing a normal turntable as done in New York and Chicago productions, Kevin Depinet and Jeffrey D. Kmiec have built an amazing wall and staircase unit that turns and converts to exteriors and interiors as well as becoming a part of the “barricade” in the second act. Not only is it effective for the opening scene (setting the tone for the entire production), but has been used to work with every scene. Bravo to the genius of the director and his tech people!
Theresa Ham has done wonders with the costumes and Jesse Klug’s lighting is different and special. Being a sort of “opera” there are not set places where the audience can show appreciation for a song, but with some special lighting, we can applaud to our hearts content while the actor is held in a special light and the set is being changed to the next scene. Again, a brilliant piece of work on the part of Corti and company. Adam Rosenthal’s sound is perfect allowing us clean and understandable words to this absorbing piece. R & D Choreography handled the violence movement and the props (of which there are many) are handled by Sarah E. Ross.
Each of the actors in this production, I am sure had seen a production before and while they could have easily been swayed by what they had seen onstage or even in the recent film version, I found them very sincere in building their own character and not imitating or mimicking previous performers. Handling the comic roles of the Thenardiers, the Inn-Keepers who were taking care of young Cosette (Nicole Scimeca is charming , adorable and has a sweet voice- easy to listen to) are Marya Grandy and Chicago favorite George Keating. Each of them brought a unique freshness to playing these evil, yet comical, characters. Their daughter, Eponine (played as a youngster by Savannah Groh) is portrayed by the powerful Lillie Cummings.
The police officer<Javert, who released Valjean, only to chase him for the rest of his life, Javert is played by the versatile Rod Thomas. I must stop here for a second to relate to you something about this Chicago actor. Over the years I have watched him mature as an actor and recently have said that he has truly become better than I ever anticipated he would become. In the portrayal of the evil Javert, Thomas has found the role of his life, a breakout role that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is and should be considered a true voice in the “musical theater scene” of Chicago. Congrats Rod on what should be a Jeff nominated performances!
This is indeed a very strong cast with Hannah Corneau as Fantine (the young maiden who Valjean pledges to protect Cosette) for, Devin DeSantis as a powerful Marius, the young man that is loved by Eponine, but is in love with Cosette (the lovely Erica Stephan), Ricky Falbo as the adorable and loveable Gavroche, and Travis taylor as Enjolras- in addition, an ensemble that changes characters and costumes throughout the production so that the stage is always filled with talent:Aubrey Adams, Ben Barker, Victoria Blade, Nicholas Foster, Shane Frantz, Nathan Gardner, Jesse Grider, Sophie Grimm, Gianna Groh, Madeline Hotham, Jason Kraack, Molly Kral, Elizabeth Lanza, Russell Mernagh, Jeff Meyer, Brandon Moorehead, Chelsea Morgan, Rob Riddle, Patrick Rooney, Steve Rusell and Patrick Tierney.
Remember, this is a story of redemption and love, as well as honor. These are people who are struggling through difficult times, but who manage to find that special someone or something that they can believe in, and that belief does change their lives. From the changes we see in Jean Valjean, we learn to realize that if one wants to redeem themselves, it can be done. Along the way (almost two hours and forty-five minutes) we fall in love with the story, the characters and in my case, the new production that the Paramount has placed for us on its glorious stage.
The orchestra under the direction of Musical Director Tom Vendafreddo is never overpowering, allowing the audience, no matter where seated, to hear every word that is sung. As I have said from the start- the Paramount Theatre has truly become one of our leading companies. One can see from the growth in their subscription base just how important this venue has become to our theater community. Each season they select a mix of old and loved musicals to grace their stage and always with a new and fresh look which goes back to my opening statement, we are not seeing the same show over and over, but are seeing a new interpretation of a story that we know. Remember this as you plan your theater trips. And always make sure you check the season at The Paramount as Aurora is a great place for entertainment.
“Les Miz” will continue at The Paramount Theatre located downtown at 23 East Galena Boulevard through April 26th with performances as follows:
Wednesdays at 1:30 and 7 p.m.
Thursdays at 7 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 1 and 5:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $41- $54 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 630-896-6666 or online atwww.ParamountAurora.com
There is valet parking, street parking and a few city lots in and around the theater. Lots of dining spots downtown as well. To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Les Miz”/ “Les Miserables”