Brilliant Les Miserables As Good as It Gets at Marcus

The current production of “Les Miserable” running at the Marcus Center is making me do something as a theater critic that I never have done before.

I am going to recommend that everyone who loves great theater go go to the Marcus Center at 2 or 8 PM on Saturday or 1 or 6:30 PM on Sunday. Take a bunch of cash with you. Put a friendly look on your face.

And try like hell to find a ticket, even though all four shows are sold out.

Just hope against hope for an Easter weekend resurrection of an empty seat or two at this production, which is one of the greatest ever in the long run of Broadway touring shows to come to Milwaukee. It’s hard to explain how this show makes you feel. I was struck on opening night by how much this seems like a passionate love affair between the audience and the show.

Conductor Brian Eads lifted his baton and the first bar of music sounded only to be dwarfed by hoots, whistles, applause and shouts. It was like long-lost lovers reunited after a too-long separation.

And neither party in this affair disappointed.

The audience was overwhelmingly moved and thrilled by the production.

And the staging, music and cast were astoundingly good, putting on a show that was as good as any I’ve ever seen, and that includes on Broadway.

The story, based on the famed Victor Hugo novel. The musical opened in 1985 in London and has set records every since. It’s the story of two men, Jean Valjean, freed after two decades in prison and in search of redemption and Javert, the police officer searching relentlessly for Valjean. All of this is conducted against the backdrop of the French Revolution.

This large cast was spectacular from the first moment to the final stirring moments of the finale. The audience leapt to its feet as one, with a snap that crackled the atmosphere.

Steve Czarnecki, an understudy, took the role of Valjean with passion and enough musical angst to fill the offices of a dozen psychiatrists. His voice was full in the furthest reaches of Uihlein Hall.

Nick Cartell was a marvelous actor with a  voice to match. I have rarely felt the relentless passion that consumed Javert for the capture of Valjean.

This production proved, again, the value of having a full Equity show hit the boards at the Marcus. A powerhouse like Les Miz demands a powerhouse of a cast, and that’s just what’s running this weekend. Look for scalpers, call ticket brokers, stand on the street and beg. It will be worth it.

The musical is so spectacular and full of memorable moments, I want to run four of them here.

The first is Patti LuPone, who played Fantine in the original production, singing the famous “I Dreamed a Dream.,” and talking about her time in the show during a PBS telecast. That’s followed by Aretha Franklin singing the same song at the inauguration of Bill Clinton

That’s followed by Colm Wilkinson who created the role of Valjean, singing the touching “Bring Him Home.”

And finally, from a PBS telecast of an anniversary production comes 17 men from different companies, all of whom played Valjean, joining together to sing “The People’s Song,” an especially powerful performance.

Watch these You Tube moments. Enjoy. And go!


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