note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
“I dreamed a dream” that “In my life,” I would be able to see the electrifying musical “Les Miserables” on stage. I got that opportunity to see it on Sunday afternoon with my grandmother (Sheila Barth), and I walked out of the theater with chills. The super-talented cast aroused such stirring emotion on stage, it was incredible.
Music Director Andrew Bryan and the orchestra make every song resound throughout the theater, while Dan Efros’ lighting and Kurt Alger and Paula Peasley-Ninestein’s costumes make us feel like we’re time-warped back to the turbulent early 1800s, in France.
“Les Miserables” is one of the most complex stories I have ever seen, and following it on a stage, in the round, is a little challenging; but this cast, brilliantly led by director-choreographer Marc Robin, doesn’t require a large, proscenium stage to enhance the characters or the plot. Their dramatic singing voices and powerful acting are stirring. Although I’m only 16, I could feel poor Fantine’s (Daniella Dalli) pain and agony, when she’s mistreated and must resort to selling her hair, her precious locket and become a prostitute, to earn money for her child, Cosette’s care. My heart ached for Eponine (Lizzie Klemperer) when she knew Marius, her true love, didn’t love her, but Cosette instead.
Tension bristles every time foils Jean Valjean (Will Ray), a cruelly mistreated, misjudged prisoner, and his longtime pursuer, Detective Javert ( Danny Rothman) confront each other. While Javert performs his duties strictly by the book, Valjean is, by far, the more noble of the two. He spent several years in jail for stealing a bread to feed his starving nephew, and his jail term of hard labor, was prolonged because he tried to escape to help his family.
Sound designer Leon Rothenberg’s cannon shots erupting all around us and the students’ uprisings, as they attempt rousing the poor to fight against suppression, are even more exciting in-the-round, especially with the actors standing nearby in the aisles, among us theatergoers, on raised platforms, and appearing and disappearing through an elevated lift in the center of the stage.
When the students raise their voices in anthems such as “Red and Black” and “Do You Hear the People Sing,” it’s a stirring call to arms.
This production also arouses compassion, especially with student Marius (Blake Stadnik), when he faces the decision to risk his life and stand up with his fellow students for what he believes in, or follow his “Heart Full of Love” for Cosette, (Jean Valjean’s adopted daughter, whom he promised to raise when her mother, Fantine, lay dying).
Stadnik delivers a heartfelt performance, raising his stunning voice, especially in songs, “In My Life,” and also “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” when he’s grieving for his dead classmates and friends. He’s haunted by their and Eponine’s ghosts.
Incidentally, Stadnick amazed theatergoers with his ease at maneuvering on the circular stage, atop a barricade, and in the aisles. The 23-year-old actor has Stargardt’s disease, a genetic form of juvenile macular degeneration. He was declared legally blind as a child, but his star shines brightly here.
Together, he and Cosette (Siri Howard) intensify emotion during their loving duets.
Portraying Eponine’s money-grabbing, parents, the Thenardiers, Gary Troy and Tregoney Shepherd are incredibly funny, gross, disturbing and evil, all at the same time, especially in songs, “Master of the House” and “Beggars at the Feast”.
Throughout the show, I noticed the entire cast has superb voices. Since there is no dialogue, the production is like an opera, in which the actors’ singing bolsters their acting, and there are no sour or misleading notes here. As Jean Valjean, Will Ray delivers the right blend of strength, love and compassion, while Rothman, as Javert, maintains his persistent resolve to catch Valjean.
Little Gavin Swartz as brave, street-smart urchin-activist, Gavroche, gives a mighty big performance, too, especially in his dying solo about the power of little people.
“At the end of the day,” if you don’t get a chance to see “Les Miserables” at North Shore Music Theatre and don’t have the pleasure of “hearing the people sing,” you’ll miss out on an incredible show and an overall great experience.
BOX INFO: Two-act Tony Award-winning musical, written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, based on Victor Hugo’s novel, appearing at the North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, through Nov. 16: Tuesday-Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; matinees, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets:$50-$75. Visit www.nsmt.org, the Box Office, or call 978-232-7200.