I haven't seen the figures yet, but the opening night audience appeared to be the largest so far this summer. And they leaped to their feet for a standing ovation even as the lights were going down on the final scene.
So I am no doubt in a small minority in finding three hours more time than I really want to spend with this story. It is, thanks to original author Victor Hugo, a pretty good story. And perhaps in reading the novel it takes less of an effort to suspend the disbelief that so many of these people would keep running into each other over the years and all over the map of France. I certainly can enjoy a good bath of self-pity and the thrill of melodrama, but for me, both are excessive in "Les Miz".
The Muny has assembled a terrific company for this production. The director, Richard Jay-Alexander, staged the original Broadway and touring productions. He moves the masses of the miserable well – and masses they are, with both the Muny's Youth Ensemble and the Gateway Men's Chorus added to the principals and the regular ensemble members. But he adds touches that make individuals of the members of the mass.
He's helped by the smart set design of Rob Mark Morgan. It moves tall, louvered pieces to mark spaces for the scenes, while the large upstage LED screen shows very realistic images of the story's small town and Parisian streets, plus a waving tricolor for climaxes. Rob Denton designed these images, Nathan W. Scheurer the lights, and Jason Krueger the sound. Kathleen Melcher consulted on the costumes, no doubt well standardized for "Les Miz" by now. Kevin Stites paces the show well as musical director.
A pair of terrific performers lead the company. Hugh Panaro has a high tenor for those ethereal moments in Claude-Michel Schönberg's score, with its two or three ingratiating melodies and endless variations. Panaro can act, too, almost too broadly in Valjean's long initial sung monologue. He's matched by the full, rich, deep tones of Norm Lewis as the rigid Javert. Lewis is especially moving in Javert's final soliloquy.
Michael McCormick and Tiffany Green wring lots of nasty fun out of the ever-scheming Thenardiers. Age-appropriate undergraduates do fully professional work as Fantine (Charlotte Maltby), Eponine (Lindsey Mader), and Marius (Alex Prakken, graduating from Muny Kids and Teens). Katie Travis draws tears as poor love-lorn Cosette, and Bobby Conte Thornton bravely leads the students as Enjolras. Jimmy Coogan makes a lively, convincing, and clear-spoken little Gavroche.
If you love "Les Miz" and want another fix, you can get it now at The Muny. For more information: muny.org.