I was fourteen years old when I first saw “Les Miz.” I loved it. Eighteen years later, I’m sorry to say the honeymoon is over. Unable to hide the source material’s dramatic deficiencies and failing to exploit the stage version’s strongest virtue—its music—Marriott Theatre’s regional mounting of “Les Misèrables” is a disappointment, and worthwhile mostly as a curiosity piece for longtime fans burning to see the show in a rare staging that deviates from the original London and Broadway’s. It now strikes me that the combination of the original’s sumptuously squalid sets, mood-evoking lighting of chiaroscuro grandeur and even that damn revolving turntable imbued “Les Misèrables”—when the music could not—with what it had lost in transition from the page to the stage: epic scope, a dramatic fluidity, emotional uplift. At the Marriott, musical director Brad Haak’s tempos admirably keep the momentum moving right along. And some moments (the Bishop of Digne scene; Eponine’s introspective counterpoints) gain from the intimacy of the space. But mostly Dominic Missimi’s staging is uninspired and characterized by the annoying tendency to have his performers address each section of the Marriott’s in-the-round audience through most of the numbers, the result of which is a lot of unnecessary, unmotivated and distracting bumbling about the stage. Diane Williams’ lighting, rarely evoking mood or place, goes for the obvious: blinding white lights that soak the stage every time somebody dies, but at least you are reminded of the work’s wider Christian significance in these moments. Of course, all would be forgiven if the cast had sung the hell out of the score, but musically the Marriott cast is mostly serviceable. Kathy Voytko nails the five-syllable crescendo in her big number, “I Dreamed a Dream,” but the rest of her vocal interpretation lacks the gut-wrenching vocals I enjoyed from the Castilian Fantine who broke my musical heart in Madrid. John Cudia’s Valjean reaches his top notes but does little of interest once there, a vocally and psychologically safe performance unable to erase the vibrant memory of the Japanese actor whom I saw play the role in Tokyo. Rick Adams’ Javert, however, is outstanding in both the musical and acting departments, and Catherine Smitko and Michael Accardo’s Thènardiers steal every one of their scenes with strong vocals and characterizations to match. Unfortunately, the rest of this Marriott production pales in comparison. Longtime fans might end up dubbing it, “Les Milquetoast Misèrables.” (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At the Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, (847)634-0200. This production is now closed.