OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Drury Lane's 'Les Mis' captures heart and spirit

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2014-04-09T00:00:00Z 2014-04-09T17:50:39Z OFFBEAT: Drury Lane's 'Les Mis' captures heart and spiritBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

The vocal range and endurance, coupled by acting talent, required for successful casting to produce a nearly three-hour stage spectacular like "Les Misérables" is not an easy feat.

In celebration of their 30th Anniversary, Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. and director Rachel Rockwell have created a fresh and sensational, sweeping musical stage story for their new run of "Les Misérables" playing now until June 8.

The cast is led by Ivan Rutherford, who has logged more than 2,000 Broadway performances as the lead Jean Valjean opposite the driven and rich, multi-leveled portrayal of his obsessed would-be captor Javert by actor Quentin Earl Darrington. Actress Jennie Sophia delivers a strong and beautifully driven turn as plight-plagued heroine Fantine.

With classic, yet quick-paced staging, the musical is set to the book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, and music by Schönberg, all based on Victor Hugo's classic novel.

Audiences join the characters' travels through three turbulent decades of 19th century France. Steeped with romance, passion, suspense and humanity, it is the story of the fugitive Jean Valjean, who is in a lifelong struggle to evade being captured as he is relentlessly pursued by the sanctimonious Inspector Javert. It is with good reason this musical has been translated into 21 different languages and has been seen by more than 65 million people worldwide.

While large-scale Broadway tours (although none that featured actor Rutherford as the lead) have played many runs in Chicago's downtown theater spaces, what sets this Drury Lane Theatre experience apart from any of the previous runs I've reviewed is the intimate venue space and how immersed the audience can become in the characters and action on stage.

So when the superb Mark David Kaplan emerges in his entrance scene as slick and calculating innkeeper Thenardier, in fine form paired with the equally talented and entertaining Sharon Sachs as his accomplice wife Madame Thenardier, Drury Lane audiences are likely to feel too close to the cavorting on stage. It's easy to feel inspired to want to raise a tin cup of grog to the fun debauchery that abounds in their number "Master of the House." And Ava Morse is particularly inspired with hauntingly perfect vocals as Little Cosette.

While Travis Taylor as Enjolras and Christina Nieves as Eponine lead the ovations and well-deserved accolades for their performances for the barricade bunch, Skyler Adams as Marius and his star-crossed love Cosette, played by Emily Rohm, still need more fine-tuning for their characters and chemistry.

Backed by a wealth of talent and pipes beyond compare courtesy of the ensemble, the moving moments are countless. Jeff Award-winner Roberta Duchak (vocal coach for Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman for the Academy Award-winning 2012 film "Les Misérables") serves as musical director. The colossal French Revolution-era set is fantastic in every way, as created by Scott Davis (with the exception of some very phony boulders lifted by Jean Valjean in the first scene, which seems laughable) as is the lighting design by Greg Hofmann and projection design by Sage Marie Carter. The co-sound designers are Ray Nardelli and Dan Mead. Rick Jarvie, who serves as wig and makeup designer, offers an array of fantastic forms, but might want to tame the fright wig worn by Jean Valjean in the early scenes.

Tickets are $45 to $60 with lunch and dinner packages available. FYI: (630) 530-0111 or drurylane.com.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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