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PBS celebrates 'Les Miserables' 25th anniversary

On its 10th anniversary, there was the Dream Cast. Now, 15 years later, is this the Definitive Cast?

Viewers can decide for themselves when KUED-TV airs "Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2" Saturday, March 5, from 7-11 p.m., with a repeat Sunday, March 6 at 3 a.m. and 7 and 11 p.m.

To celebrate the opening of the world-conquering phenomenon known as "Les Miz," uberproducer Cameron Mackintosh staged this extraordinary concert at the 14,000-seat London amphitheater.

For those who may not have seen a professional version of "Les Miz," this will be a revelation. Even for vets of more than a few Broadway or West End shows, it is still a must-see.

This semi-staged "Les Miz" has been streamlined, but director Nick Morris does an astounding job re-creating the atmosphere of the full show, using a cast of 500 actors and musicians. Yes, 500.

That number includes a rich symphonic orchestra and the massive, 300-strong choir.

And, oh, the singing.

The best theater singer-actors dazzle here. As Jean Valjean, Tony winner Alfie Boe is stirring, delivering a full-throttle vocal intensity when necessary. Norm Lewis, who received rave reviews for the recent "Sondheim on Sondheim," is a memorably sinister Javert. His "Stars" is sensational.

As Fantine, Lea Salonga is heart-breaking. Though struggling with the lower notes, she raises the bar with a superb "I Dreamed a Dream." Ramin Karimloo is a wonderfully strong-voiced Enjoloras.

Matt Lucas and Jenny Galloway are delicious, scene-stealing Thenardiers. Lucas is a British character actor whom American audiences may know from his twin roles in Tim Burton's "Alice." Galloway is regarded as a legend in her role. Even young Robert Madge's Gavroche is a joy.

Apologies to any Jonas Brothers fans, but pity poor Nick Jonas. He's a painful weak link in the otherwise sensational casting. He just doesn't have the vocal range or strength. This is the only "Les Miz" I've seen where I wished Marius was left for dead. Kudos to the charming Katie Hall as Cosette. She shows no signs of embarrassment singing opposite him.

As an encore, "Bring Him Home" is sung by four Valjeans, including Colm Wilkinson from the original London cast, before being joined by other 1985 cast members for "One Day More."

Purists will miss a few snips to the full script and — gasp! — there's no turntable, but these cuts don't dilute the show's strength.

Theater mavens have a love/not love relationship with "Les Miz," but extraordinary performances can make any show, and this shinning-like-silver "Les Miz" is spectacular popular theater.

Blair Howell is a freelance editor and writer.

Little-known 'Les Miz' facts

The English lyrics were written by Herbert Kretzmer, a critic for London's Daily Mail newspaper.

Despite the critic/lyricist's direct affiliation with the show, it didn't stop his newspaper's reviewer from writing, "Like eating an artichoke, you have to go through an awful lot to get a very little."

The idea began when librettist Alain Boublil saw "Oliver!" The Artful Dodger made him think of Gavroche.

There have been nearly 40 cast recordings with productions in 42 countries, and the show has been translated into 21 different languages.

There have been more than 45,000 professional performances worldwide to a total audience of more than 57 million people.

It's often confused, but the musical is not set during the French Revolution of 1789. The action begins in 1815 and continues through the student revolt that terrorized Paris in 1832.

"Les Miz" became London's longest-running musical in October 2006. On that night super-fan Sally Frith saw the show for the 740th time.

Cameron Mackintosh is developing a film version.