Three blockbuster shows are making the Hub a true theatrical treasure trove this summer. A solid tour of “Wicked” possesses much of the charm and the set wizardry of the Stephen Schwartz musical. Reagle Music Theatre has brilliantly tackled the challenges of mounting a local revival of “Les Miserables.” Horses and humans ride and romp under the white big top of Cavalia in its latest blend of visual poetry and joyous athleticism “Odysseo.” What is particularly gratifying about all three visually striking and panoramic productions is their common celebration of the enduring simple values of friendship and love.
By now theatergoers should be fairly familiar with out novelist Gregory Maguire’s ingeniously sympathetic look at Elphaba, the notorious villain of “The Wizard of Oz.” — a back story that Winnie Holzman crisply adapted for the Stephen Schwartz musical “Wicked.” In the enchanting if not quite extraordinary tour at the Opera House, veteran director Joe Mantello has kept the blend of sparkling design and human caring that give this perennial favorite its theatrical magic. Eugene Lee’s inspired settings continue to complement Elphaba and (here) cloyingly ‘good’ Glinda’s education at Shiz University and growing sisterhood of feeling and the challenges that test their friendship at the Emerald City.
Elphaba, as always, takes center stage in “Wicked,” and Laurel Harris —standing in for Alison Luff — catches her early diffidence and eventual confidence. If her rendition of Elphaba’s signature number and the musical’s best song “Defying Gravity” is not a showstopper, her singing is forceful and her acting richly convincing. Jenn Gambatese needs more dynamism as often incorrigible Glinda, but her renditions are vibrant. Curt Hansen is persuasively cocky and loving to Elphaba as hunky Fiyero.
In this affecting tour, the best work comes in support. John Davidson brings vocal resonance and winning flair to the role of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz so that a major revelation about him makes complete sense. Kim Zimmer makes University head Madame Morrible’s transformation from Elphaba’s supporter to her adversary vivid and Clifton Davis finds all of animal sage Doctor Dillamond’s vulnerability. Jesse JP Johnson catches Boq’s spirit and sadness adoring Glinda and serving Elphaba’s physically challenged Nessa Rose.
Wayne Cilento’s lively musical staging includes some smart bromantic dance moves as well as a variety of ensemble configurations. “Wicked” champions diversity and human caring. The Opera House tour makes that always timely message very entertaining.
Wicked, national tour presented by Broadway in Boston at the Opera House, Boston, through September 15.Broadway in Boston.com or 617-931-2787.
“Les Miserables” is equally challenging and big –hearted in its own way. Not surprisingly, local companies virtually always find its demanding design and large cast too formidable. Now Reagle Summer Theater has changed all of that with a soulful production that triumphs over those challenges for one of the company’s finest efforts in recent memory.
Director-musical stager David Hugo — no relation to the epic novel’s author Victor Hugo — has employed a freeze frame effect instead of the turntable familiar in many stagings. This choice gives many of the starkest moments —including some at the pivotal student —propelled Barricade — a desirable affinity with paintings by Manet and Delacroix. Some tours of the Tony Award-winning musical have seemed to take a paint-by-numbers approach to both characters and themes. Hugo and a generally strong cast make “Les Miserables” as moving as prisoner turned principled Everyman Jean Valjean’s lifelong struggle for dignity.
Ivan Rutherford captures Valjean’s majesty as well as his rage. His “Bring Him Home,” as Jean prays for son-like Marius’ welfare, is a wonderfully developed anthem for human caring. Doug Jabara catches inspector Javert’s humanity as well as his moral rigidity. Mara Wilson as ill-fated Eponine brings heart-wrenching intensity to her signature number “On My Own.” Ross Brown is winningly warm as Marius.
Hugo has given singular attention to the male bonding of the undaunted students. David Carney is a big-voiced standout as charismatic leader Enjolras. Danny Harrington catches brave young Gavroche’s spunk helping at the Barricade. Phil Tayler has the right skepticism as war-weary Grantaire — and later good brief spirit as a gay wedding reveler maligned by unscrupulous innkeeper Thenardier. Rick Sherburne lacks true nastiness as parasitic Thenardier, but Maureen Brennan is properly opportunistic as his wife.
Reagle Summer Theatre really brings “Les Miserables” home with great heart and talent.
(Ivan Rutherford’s own CD is available for purchase at intermission and after the performance. Look for robust singing and sharp phrasing on such numbers as “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Something’s Coming.”)
Les Miserables, Reagle Summer Theatre, Waltham, through August 18.reaglesummertheatre.com or 781-891-5600
Anyone who saw Cavalia’s first show several years ago at Suffolk Downs knows that artistic director and creator Normand Latourelle is a master at bringing together humans and horses in multi-media magic at once both breath-taking and very moving. Together with choreographers Wayne Fowkes —for humans and Benjamin Allaud —for horses, he has brought the same kind of collaborative brilliance to “Odysseo.
A second celebration of the spirit of the equine world and the wonders that arise from human-equine connections, the tour of “Odyssey” brings together rider-gymnasts of the highest caliber and the diverse beauty and remarkable talent of 63 horses — among them Arabians, quarter horses and Spanish purebreds. This four season-spanning saga features eye-catching three-dimensional design, poetic backdrops and amazing design effects. There are memorable aerial and ground-based feats —including one gymnast who seems to hang by his ankles and a human balancing tower.
Most of all there are the horses themselves. At some moments they circle humans and themselves. At others, they turn and dance. There is also an amazing moment when all of the horses stop in place in sync a feat that many humans will be hard-pressed to match.
“Odysseo” has the kind of grand stature that Homer brought to his classic Ithaca-bound epic. Do not miss its uniquely thrilling ride.
Cavalia Odysseo, tour, Assembly Square, Somerville, through September 1. www.cavalia.net or 866-999-8111