Les Miserables

When the national touring company of “Les Miserables” comes to town, it’s not a question of whether it’s good or not. It’s just a matter of naming which performers stand out the most.

The touring production is designed to be exactly the same as the Broadway version. (Interesting side note: I saw it on Broadway in April and it was, inexplicably, exactly 10 minutes shorter than when I saw it at the Capitol Theatre on Tuesday. I honestly cannot figure out how that happened, unless the song tempos were faster in New York. Capitol’s intermission may have been a bit longer, too.)

The production is flawless from a technical standpoint; whether all the actors really have their heart in it is something else. Ivan Rutherford plays Jean Valjean, and his vocal performance is outstanding. (“Bring Him Home” got the longest sustained applause of opening night.) However, he lacks a certain stage presence. Instead of presiding over the show, commanding any scene he’s the focus of, he seems a mere participant.

He is overshadowed by the great Stephen Bishop, who plays Valjean’s pursuer Javert with personality and gusto. From the first moment he comes onstage, one is immediately forced to pay attention to him.

Likewise, Tim Howar’s Marius is handsome and effective in his role as rabble-rouser and lover. Cosette (Regan Thiel) seems more a minor character than ever, as her scenes with Marius are passable, but without any great emotion.

The emotion is with Eponine, played by Sutton Foster. Perhaps more than any other performer, Foster completely immerses herself in the role, singing “On My Own” with amazing fervor and passion.

Aymee Garcia and J.P. Dougherty earn their laughs as the comically ugly Thenardiers.

Minor squabbles with performances aside, the sweeping grandeur of this beautiful show comes through loud and clear. It’s a story about forgiveness, redemption and, most of all, love: “To love another person is to see the face of God,” the cast sings at the end, and having just seen three hours of material leading up to that, you can’t help but agree. Unlike “Phantom of the Opera” — the other big-time musical often spoke of in the same breath as this one — “Les Miserables” is short on spectacle and long on depth and meaning. It’s a brilliant, beautiful show. Don’t miss a chance to see it.

The 10-minute difference in time is odd indeed, especially since the touring company loudly advertises the fact that it's EXACTLY the same as the Broadway version. It's like an "X-Files" thing, "lost time" and all.

What is usually one of the most emotional parts of the show for me didn't work in this production. It's where the little boy Gavroche sneaks out to get more bullets and gets shot in the process. It usually makes me cry, 'cause it's a little kid and he's so brave and stuff. But the boy in this touring company over-did it. When he got shot for the last time, he made this big "I just got shot!" face, like a kid playing cowboys and Indians, and then fell over dead. It made me laugh, at least quietly and to myself.