'Les Miserables' disappointingly mediocre

Utah Shakespeare Festival's "Les Miserables" is an adequate production, which is to say, inadequate to one's hopes.

This sung-through musical about the turbulent early 1800s prior to the French Revolution is a mediocre tale of unrelenting angst. But America disagrees with me. It's been a huge hit for 25 years, and a huge hit can't possibly be a terrible show, can it?

This "thing" still manages to be an effective way to introduce young people to the great novelist Victor Hugo. The author's story, beneath the weighted score, provides moments of emotional depth (especially when approximately three hours of episodic events are tied together in an ending that makes sense of all that has come before). A rousing Act 1 finale gives us the cast members singing in counterpoint of their character's wants. And the show makes such a good case for forgiveness that you may find yourself wanting to be nice to someone.

But director Brad Carroll's work is merely competent. Too many of the actors seem out of their element. In the lead role of Jean Valjean - a man who goes to prison on a trumped up charge, becomes a thief, and then, through the kindness of a saintly clergyman decides to devote his life to good - J. Michael Bailey has a tight, unexpressive voice. He's a charmless, by-the-numbers actor.

There are many pleasing vocals. And occasionally a performer pops up who makes you smile. Brian Vaughn has a rough go at first with the justice-obsessed Inspector Javert . But in the second act, he conveys the torment of a man who cannot tolerate self-doubt. And Max Robinson, as an unscrupulous innkeeper, has a memorable final scene as a clownish hick who seems straight out of Moliere.

Those who have never seen the show will likely be intrigued. Those who know what this musical can be will have to make do with memories.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com.You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.


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