Next year we'll have the big-budget movie starring Hugh Jackman (as Jean Valjean) and Russell Crowe (as Javert) to compare it to, but right now you can see what critics and audiences are loving in the 25th anniversary touring production of Les Misérables, playing through Sunday at the Winspear.
About 30 minutes have been trimmed from the Broadway original, but it's still a full three hours of operatic sung-through storytelling, loyal to the Victor Hugo novel. New orchestrations by Chris Jahnke have given the music a boost of energy. The cast is extraordinarily young and attractive. The fine acoustics of the Winspear complement the demands of the show's music. When tenor J. Mark McVey, as Valjean, beautifully caresses the impossible high notes of the prayer-like "Bring Him Home," making it a near-showstopper, you'll hear the sound of the final word ping off the top balcony.
Les Miz tells parallel stories, starting with Valjean, sentenced to 19 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread. Released from prison, he builds a new life, but is haunted by a suspicious policeman, Javert (Andrew Varela), bent on exposing Valjean's criminal past.
When prostitute Fantine (Betsy Morgan) dies in Valjean's arms, he adopts her young daughter, Cosette (Kylie McVey, alternating with Juliana Simon). Fifteen years later, Cosette (now Jenny Latimer) falls in love with a radical student, Marius (Max Quinlan). The paths of all the characters converge during the violent, student-led anti-monarchist insurrection known as the June Rebellion.
Scenic designer Matt Kinley re-creates the paintings of author Hugo in the huge charcoal-smudgy images projected in 3-D all around the actors. A street scene fades into the shadows of the Paris sewers then magically changes into the buildings and brothels in which characters converge.
It's all acted, sung and performed on an epic scale. Whether it's your first Les Miz or your 20th, you'll remember this one as a grand night of great theater.
Les Misérables continues through January 1 at the Winspear Opera House. Call 214-880-0202.