Les Miserables at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theater is more modern, but no less powerful

First things first: If you’ve never seen “Les Miserables,” stop reading and go book your tickets for the show at the Cadillac Palace Theater. Les Mis is a classic, even for people who claim not to like musicals, and if you’re approaching middle age without having seen it, it’s time.

Now, for those of you who’ve already seen it: Go book your tickets for the show at the Cadillac Palace Theater.

Even if you’re a Les Mis vet, this all-new production, running through Feb. 27 at the Cadillac Palace Theater, is worth seeing. The story, of course, is the same: An ex-convict, turned adoptive father, seeks redemption against the backdrop of 19th-century revolutionary France. But this is a fresher, grittier production than previous runs. Subtle but powerful changes to the score — I swear I heard an acoustic guitar at one point — bring this musical out of the 1980s and squarely into the present day. The harp and cello behind “I Dreamed a Dream” is haunting and let Besty Morgan’s vocals stand on their own.

Andrew Varela, as Javert, is the show’s most powerful voice, and as he delivers the closing notes of his classic “Stars,” you can actually feel the audience getting ready to burst into applause. Lawrence Clayton’s Jean Valjean grew on me throughout the show; his early numbers do less to showcase the pipes he lets loose in “Bring Him Home,” the daunting, delicate number by which any Valjean is judged.

Take the kids? Maybe. This production is grittier and harsher than past runs: Physical altercations are more numerous and more graphic, and sexual innuendos less veiled. As a rule of thumb, if you’re not ready to explain to your kids what “slut” means (or think they don’t already know), you should probably leave them at home. (Fact: I learned what a prostitute was at a 1995 viewing of Les Mis with my dad in what I can only assume was the most uncomfortable conversation ever held during an intermission.)

That said, kids will love the show’s music, emotional depth and, of course, its child stars. Gavroche, the small boy who joins the uprising in San Michelle, is always a favorite and Josh Caggiano and Colin DePaula bring to the role a spunk that is as endearing as it is sad. Katherine Forrester and Anastasia Korbal split the role of young Cosette, and while their stage time is limited, they deliver: Your young daughters will be singing “Castle on a Cloud” on repeat for the next three weeks.

Since it opened to wide acclaim in 1986, Les Mis is a show you experience, rather than just see, and this production is no different. Those seeing their second or third Les Mis will notice the differences, but those being initiated into the club will, as always, be blown away by the story’s power, melodies and performances.

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