I guess we have Telsey + Company and Rachel Hoffman to thank for the casting, which succeeds most of the time. The male actors are excellent, led by scowling Robert Cuccioli as Javert and Fred Inkley, the first Valjean I've seen who lives up to the abnormally strong man he's supposed to be. Inkley is just tremendous as Valjean, delivering the best "Bring Him Home" I've ever heard (and, when he smiles during the curtain call, I can see how he's been cast in the variety of shows listed in his bio). All of the men sing very well, including Matthew Scott as Marius (welcome back to Pittsburgh) and the amazing young Joseph Serafini as Gavroche. But let me pause and just say "wow" in reference to Kevin Earley as Enjolras - in the most thankless role in the show (I mean, no one even seems to noticed when he's died!), Earley leaves quite an impression, with the most beautiful vocals in the cast. Again, wow. Pittsburgh veteran Tim Hartman was made to play Thenardier and has gets a rare chance to show what a strong voice he has. My only quibble about the men, and it's just an unfortunate thing, is that, while almost all of them are above average height (I like a Valjean who can go eye-to-eye with Javert), when Thenardier and Marius tangle late in the show, their height difference adds an unintentional funny moment. I wouldn't lose Scott, but Hartman is extremely tall and, by that time he's sporting an extra 6" of pompadour.
Against this strong slate of men, the women in the cast don't quite come up to par. As Fantine, the usually dependable Jacquelyn Piro Donovan seemed a bit off, vocally, at the performance I saw. I trust she improved through the run. Musical reality show star Ashley Spencer has a lovely voice, but for Eponine, she just brings too contemporary a presence. As Cosette, Kate Loprest is solid though a bit bland. Sally Wilfert is paired well with Hartman as the grande Mrs. Thenardier. It can be a tough show for the women to really stand out, and it just doesn't happen here.
The ensemble provides great support, singing and acting above par, throughout Barry Ivan's efficient direction and choreography.
Hooray for the return of Tom Helm who leads a substantial and talented orchestra, giving the audience every bit of the stirring score.
Les Misérables runs through July 19 at the Benedum Center. Next up, Cuccioli, Hartman and Wilfert shed the drama to join Chandra Lee Schwartz and Tony Yazbeck in Copacabana, running July 21 through August 2. For ticket and performance information, visit www.pgharts.org or call (412) 471-6070.