Les Mediocrity

Munyís Les Miserables is long and dreary and, well, miserable.

And it's not just this one scene. Every moment in Les Miz is filled out. Every single bit player is credible. (Even when they don't have anything to say, members of the ensemble stand in character.) Contrast this to The Pajama Game two weeks ago when nearly every line uttered by the supporting actors ranged from insufficient to downright bad. But with Les Miz you can almost visualize the director and his assistant drilling the ensemble to get everything right.

The Muny likes to boast that their productions are locally mounted, but that really only works when the guest director already has a history with the show. It's also helpful when the Muny hires the proper actors. Ivan Rutherford, who has played Jean Valjean on Broadway, arrived at the first day of rehearsal with a command of the role. Rutherford delivers a persuasive performance fitted to the Muny stage (though I hope his contract protects him against having to pay for a hernia operation, which he risks needing after almost every song). It's when the Muny artistic leadership is left to its own devices ("What shall we do with this scene?") that it fails miserably. That's when we hear wailing about "we only have a ten-day rehearsal schedule." If Les Miz could be staged in ten days — and look as sharp as this production does — there's nary a show in the repertoire that couldn't be done on a ten-day schedule.

We had two productions this summer — Hello, Dolly! and Les Miserables — that are telling reminders of how uniquely special a well-staged show can be at the Muny. As gratifying as they were, these two musicals also serve to remind us of how deficient most of the productions in recent memory have been. One outstanding show could be chalked off as a fluke, an aberration. But to see two shows staged within an inch of their lives is to confirm that this kind of quality can and should be the norm, and we should never again have to settle for less. ("It's the Muny, darling.") How sad that in recent years Muny audiences have been duped and numbed into accepting the second-rate. But I hope that Richard Millman, chairman of the board of directors, sees Les Miz and realizes what a disservice the board is doing to the entire city when it turns a blind eye to Blake's continuing commitment to mediocrity.

Les Miz could spark an uprisng owing to Fred Hanson's deft direction.
larry pry
Les Miz could spark an uprisng owing to Fred Hanson's deft direction.

Details

Performed through August 15 at the Muny in Forest Park. In addition to the free seats, tickets cost $9 to $62. Call 314-534-1111.

No, Les Miz is not about the French Revolution. But here's hoping that it might start a revolution of another kind and help to remind St. Louisans of what a thrilling civic treasure the Muny truly is when it's properly used.

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