If you close your eyes, Balagan's production of Les Misérables is marvelous. Jean Valjean is sung by Louis Hobson, whose upper register could make angels weep. (Hobson just returned to Seattle from New York City, where he'd been working on Broadway, to be Balagan's new artistic director.) Brian Giebler sings Marius with a brightness and power that nicely counteracts the dewy sentimentality of all of Marius's songs. And Tessa Archer (as Fantine) and Danielle Barnum (as Eponine) round out the principal female singing roles with competence and grace, backed by an 11-piece orchestra conducted by Nathan Young. (He's also playing keyboard—seen dimly through a screen in the set, Young appears to be conducting with his forehead.)
Had director Jake Groshong made this a concert version of the show, this would be a rave review. Alas, this is a full staging—with limited resources. The set (by Ahren Buhmann), lighting (Emmett Buhmann), and costumes (Lauren Karbowski) utterly fail to transport you to Paris in the 19th century. Jean Valjean ages before our eyes by way of what looks like Halloween spray-on gray hair coloring. The battle sequences are full of guns that do not fire. And the blocking is clumsy: Marius sings "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" while all of his dead comrades spring back to life and line up on bended knee with their rifles raised (why?). Likewise, while no one sings "Bring Him Home" better than Hobson, why is he up on a platform so close to the ceiling, and why does he get down on his knees halfway through, his face partly blocked by a handrail? My constructive advice: Get rid of the set, let us see the orchestra, and just sing the thing. The only characters who really inhabit the space well are the sick and twisted Thénardiers, played perfectly by Robert Scherzer and Rebecca M. Davis.