No one expects (or should expect, at least) “Les Miserables” to have the same vibrancy, the same urgency, as when the musical debuted on Broadway nearly 20 years ago. Or the first umpteen times the touring production swung through the continental United States, for that matter.
Still, I’m happy to report, as the latest incarnation of the tour makes its final creaking stretches toward a summer close — before “Les Miz,”
the staged song adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel of crime, punishment, love and rebellion in 19th-century France, makes an anniversary revival on Broadway later this year — it’s still in mighty fine form.
Longtime “Les Mizzers” will no doubt check in with the tour’s current week-long Gammage Auditorium stop simply to get another sweet injection of those memorable tunes (“One Day More,” “At the End of the Day,”
“Bring Him Home”). Or to get another glance at that mechanical barricade that swings and clicks into place like a high-art Transformer, and to appreciate the gracefulness of the infamous, great turntable on which scenes slowly spin in segue.
They certainly won’t be going to size up the latest cast against former ones. But those fans nevertheless will be warmly rewarded by the current crew of performers, a somewhat youngish bunch that sustains the production’s energy while supporting some surprising standouts.
The cream of the crop is Randal Keith, as Jean Valjean, a convict on the lam who takes in an orphan girl, Cosette, only to find the pair caught up in a student rebellion and Cosette’s first real romance, with a boy named Marius. Keith’s not the best actor to interpret the role — he’s a stocky sort who looks a little too much like a flank steak Travis Tritt, and any sense of actorly nuance is lost 10 rows back — but he’s got a killer baritone that slides into a gorgeous falsetto that makes silky magic of his second-act ballad, “Bring Him Home,” a song that’s so beautiful in Keith’s hands that it makes you wish modern audiences gave standing ovations mid-show.
Keith gets a few sostenuto moments in his songs that are simply sublime, but it’s this company’s older Eponine, Melissa Lyons, who delivers a left-field whammy with her take on “On My Own,” the plaintive ballad that opens the second act; toward the end of the tune, the orchestra drops out and Lyons, holding one reverb-drenched note like it’s her only friend in the world, threatens to make it the most emotionally wrenching moment of the show.
This tour stop will remind the “Les Mizzers” amongst us of little jeweled moments perhaps forgotten since the last time we saw the show:
Keith’s Jean Valjean holding hands and singing playful la-la-las in harmony with young Cosette (Meg Guzulescu); the relationship between Valjean and fast-on-his-heels Inspector Javert (Robert Hunt) forged out of a “Poncho and Lefty” rivalry; the big red flag of revolution hoisted aloft in “One Day More,” a moment that never fails to give shivers up the spine.
Of course, this staging isn’t perfect. Hunt’s Javert is a bit too baby-faced for the role, and — spoiler alert! — his suicide staged toward the end of the show remains frustratingly cheesy. And as Cosette’s mother, Fantine, Joan Almedilla croons her tunes with a synthesizer-sounding vibrato that will make you glad she has but a few scenes before kicking the bucket.
The end result is a production that reminds audiences just how amazing “Les Miserables” was, remains and probably will be the next time it comes roaring into town, whenever that is.
No matter who’s actually taking a spin on the turntable.
>> “Les Miserables” runs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, through Friday, May 19; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21, at Gammage Auditorium, 1200 S. Forest Ave., Tempe. $22.25-$70.50. (480)
965-3434 or www.asugammage.com. Grade: A-