Thursday, October 17, 2013

“Les Miserables” at Ocean State Theatre

by Richard Pacheco
            Ocean State Theatre’s first full season opener, “Les Miserables” is full of verve, passion and sheer talent in all the roles, well worth watching.  The musical, one of the world’s most popular, has won 8 Tony Awards and last year was made into a highly acclaimed movie nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning three. “Les Miserables", often known as “Les Miz” is a sung-through musical based on the novel of the same name by French poet and novelist Victor Hugo. It has music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, with an English-language libretto by Herbert Kretzmer. Set in early 19th-century France, it is the story of Jean Valjean, a burly French peasant of abnormal strength and potentially violent nature, and his quest for redemption after serving nineteen years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread for his starving sister's child. Valjean decides to break his parole and start his life anew after a kindly bishop inspires him to, but he is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector named Javert. Along the way, Valjean and a slew of characters are swept into a revolutionary period in France, where a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade.
            Originally released as a French-language concept album, the first musical-stage adaptation of “Les Misérables” was presented at a Paris sports arena, the Palais des Sports, in 1980. However, the first production closed after three months when the booking contract expired.
In 1983, about six months after producer Cameron Mackintosh had opened “Cats” on Broadway, he received a copy of the French concept album from director Peter Farago. Farago had been impressed by the work and asked Mackintosh to produce an English-language version of the show. Initially reluctant, Mackintosh eventually agreed. Mackintosh in conjunction with the Royal Shakespeare Company, assembled a production team to adapt the French musical for a British audience. After two years in development, the English-language version opened in London on 8 October 1985, by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Centre, then the London home of the RSC. The success of the West End musical led to a Broadway production.
This production directed by Ocean State Artistic Director Amiee Turner is rich, vivid and memorable. At the end they received a well deserved standing ovation.
            Frederic S. Scheff is wonderful as Jean Valjean.  He is a solid presence, full of energy, passion and sincerity.  His dramatic tenor voice is superb, full of richness and subtlety. He delivers and deep performance full of nuance as he brings to life the character with the checkered past who must leave it all behind to achieve his salvation. Musically he shines in songs like “Soliloquy” and “Who am I?”
            Kevin B. McGlynn is his match as the relentless Javert, the police inspector who will not surrender his quarry no matter how many years or miles pass. His baritone bass voice is wonderful, rich and full of nuance, vivid and passionate. He shows it off to good  purpose in songs like “Stars” and Soliloquy”.
            Lindsie VanWinkle is Fantine, is the single mother of Cosette and fired from work in Valjean’s factory forced to become a prostitute to support her daughter who is left in the care of the conniving couple the Thenardiers. She is a delight with a lyric mezzo soprano voice that is superb. She evokes sympathy and compassion in her performance with skill and finesse.
            Meagan McNulty is the charming Cosette, grown and the ward of Valjean. She is a wonderful ingénue who plays the role with passion and style, full of grace. She has a wonderful soprano voice. Her duets with Marius are breathtaking and satisfying.
            Tommy Labanaris is Marius, the young student rebel who loves Cosette  He has a strong tenor voice, full of verve and energy. He shines in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” and in his duet with Eponine,  “A Little Fall of Rain.” He is also excellent in his trio with Eponine and Cosette, “A Heart Full of Love.”
            Alyssa Gorgone, whom I last saw in “Legally Blonde” shines again in this role as the Thenardier’s daughter who grew up with Cosette for a while. She evokes an image of great strength and tenderness in the character, sweetly endearing but strong and passionate. Her mezzo-soprano voice is superb in songs like "On My Own" where she decides to stand by Marius even though he is in love with Cosette. Then there is the superb, “A Little Fall of Rain” when she is shot and dies.
Real life husband and wife JP Sarro and Nicole Paloma Sarro are delightful as the devious, conniving couple, Thenardier and Madame Thenardier. They show a real comic sensibility and assurance is their robust songs like “Master of the House” and later on in “Beggars at the Feast.” JP Sarro is deliciously nefarious in the scene where he robs the dead bodies and sings "Dog Eat Dog."
Laurel McMahon and Grace Truslow alternate as Young Cosette and Young Eponine. Laurel sings wonderfully in the haunting "Castle on a Cloud" where she dreams of escaping her miserable life.
Scott Guthrie as Enjolras, the leader of the students is winning in his performance. His tenor voice is wonderful in songs like “Red and Black” and “Do You Hear the People Sing,” is rich and sonorous sheer pleasure and robust singing. "Drink to Me of Days Gone By" is particularly telling and touching as he sings it just before the students die at the barricades.
Iain Yarbrough as Gavroche a young street urchin is pure delight, charming and full of energy. His solo "Little People" comes when he reveals Javert as a spy and it is excellent. He dies in a heart wrenching moment when he climbs beyond the barricades to retrieve ammunition for the rebels and is shot by an unseen sniper. Bobby Miller III plays Gavroche at alternating performances.
Director Amiee Tuner makes it all a wonderful experience with splashy direction particularly in the large musical numbers like the comic “Master of the House.” She handles the direction of the large scenes with finesse and skill.
Musical director John Jay Espino, who also conducts the fine six person orchestra, shines throughout with masterful musicians and getting strong vocal performances.
Costume Designer Brian Horton has delivered some superb costumes from elegant to raggedy and everything in between.
The set by Clifton Chadwick is clever and works well in its various transformations. The lighting design by Bob Siler works well and the sound design by Ryan P. McGinty is excellent.
The scope and breadth of the production are enchanting and richly emotional. Everything comes together in this production to make it thoroughly enjoyable on all levels.

"Les Miserables" (2 - 27 October)
@ 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, WARWICK RI

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