The current production of ''Les Miserables" at the Opera House, which started previews Wednesday, opened to the press Friday night, and plays through Sunday, is billing itself as the ''FINAL BOSTON ENGAGEMENT!" Read the fine print, though, and you'll note that producer (and peerless marketer) Cameron Mackintosh says, ''This version of the show is visiting our tour markets for one last time."
This tour, the third of three national versions (so far), has been on the road since 1988, and it is indeed closing this summer. But its set will soon be back in use, when ''Les Miz" returns to Broadway in October -- just a little more than three years after it closed there -- for what's billed as a ''special limited six-month engagement," according to Playbill.com.
In brief: If this carefully wrought, excruciatingly overwrought blockbuster of a singing broadside is your idea of a good time, don't panic. It's not vanishing into the history books any time soon.
Certainly many in Friday's audience, which roared to its feet at the end of nearly three bombastic hours, will be cheered by that news. The men next to me, who hummed softly along to their favorite bits and confessed at intermission that this was their 13th ''Miz," had plenty of company in their enthusiasm; surely they were not alone in knowing all the intricacies of which cast members had come to Boston before in one of the tour's seven (!) previous visits, just how big the set's famously ingenious turntable really was, or exactly which Eponine was their favorite.
As the French say, ''Chacun a son gout."
And as the Americans say, ''Include me out."
It's possible to admire the craft, attention to detail, and plain hard work that go into a production while remaining utterly unmoved by the result. And ''Les Miz" has craft and work in abundance: a meticulously designed set that offers apparently endless opportunities for tableaux and pageantry, a score that propels the sprawling plot and pulls the susceptible heartstrings with relentless force, and a cast that, even after all this time, throws itself afresh into each excessive moment.
If Randal Keith's Jean Valjean looks a little well fed for a man who's spent 19 years in prison, it doesn't seem to bother anyone; and if he sounded under the weather Friday night -- by turns nasal and guttural -- that didn't seem to matter, either. Like the rest of the cast, down to the downtrodden children, Keith has a carefully polished sheen of professional charisma that apparently passes, among ''Miz" devotees, for passion.
For those of us outside that charmed circle, however, the endlessly turning set and the distancing effect of an overbearing and synthetic sound design create a weirdly disconnected evening in the theater. The revolutionaries and the romantics revolve before our eyes, singing and dancing and dying; we watch, we hear (except in some curious dead spots on the cavernous stage), but we feel nothing. Huge and heartless in its attack on our sympathies and our senses, ''Les Miserables" is a simulacrum of a show.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.