Les Miserables, Auditorium Theatre. It's best to approach this mega musical in the spirit of Oscar Wilde, who said of Dickens that it would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell. You can overdose on compassion as Jean Valjean's calamities mount, the major-key music mugs you with its Europop excess, and the lyrics spell out every subtext--even in the best numbers, like Valjean's "Bring Him Home" and Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream." The audience ends up limp with either a surfeit of empathy or guilt over not giving a damn, because no tribulation makes a big enough impression to take a toll.
The questionable feat accomplished by creators Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg is to speed through Victor Hugo's sprawling novel; adopting a channel-switching mentality, they hurl all the sentiment Hugo left to the narration into the easy-feeling songs. But the work's pleasure remains the showcase it offers stunning singers. Randal Keith brings a stratospheric tenor to Valjean's soaring solos, and Joseph Mahowald's implacable Javert is a relentless force. Fantine (Jayne Paterson) and Eponine (Dina Lynne Morishita) plumb their passions like deep-sea divers, the Thenardiers (Aymee Garcia and J.P. Dougherty) delight as they disgust, and the young couple (Stephen Brian Patterson and Stephanie Waters) reinvent love at first sight. But then quality control comes as no surprise in a spectacle that leaves nothing to chance--or the imagination.