U-M Musical Theater offers a polished, emotional “Les Miserables”

photo(1)(1)By ROGER LeLIEVRE
Ann Arbor, Mich (Apr. 18, 2014)

I’ve seen “Les Miserables” so often I’ve lost count.

Besides professional productions in Detroit and Chicago, the long-running Broadway musical hit inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel has been performed in the area several times lately, since the show’s rights are now available to regional theaters. This week it’s the University of Michigan Department of Musical Theatre’s turn.

Opening night was Thursday at Power Center (it continues through Sunday). The U-M production made me completely dismiss every other performance I have ever watched. It was so good as to defy criticism. Almost.

Granted, the U-M has a deserved reputation for theater excellence. But on occasion (“Chicago” comes to mind), their productions have been so polished the humanity was stripped clean. Not so this “Les Miz.” Polished, for sure, but cast members owned their roles in such as way as to bring every facet of their characters to life. Although familiar, it sounded fresh. And there were a couple of glitches that just served to remind me that this was live theater after all.

All the major characters were superb, and I found myself caught up anew in story’s sweep, but there were some high points worth singling out.

Erika Henningsen wrung every possible bit of emotion from Fantine’s heartbreaking  “I Dreamed A Dream.” Kalia Medeiros amd Mackenzie Orr were perfect in their portrayals of the scheming Thenardiers, whose appearances provide some oft-needed comic relief. I couldn’t imagine a better Marius than that offered by Sean Seymour, and his ability to hit the high notes on “Bring Him Home” was thrilling. The same went for Conor Ryan as Jean Valjean and Bobby Conte Thornton as the single-minded Inspector Javert.Whitney Brandt was a standout as the doomed Eponine.

And there were some glitches. A critical gunshot was missing the requisite sound effect. The orchestra occasionally went astray. Sound issues at times made ensemble of revolutionaries seem almost unmiked. But these were most definitely minor quibbles typical of any show on opening night. Overall, this “Les Miz” was an epic performance of an epic show.

Now let’s get these kids on to Broadway, where they clearly belong.

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