Fiddler on Theatre Mirror Reviews-"Les Miserables"

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entire contents copyright 2015 by Tony Annicone

"Les Miserables"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Encore Repertory Company's acclaimed production of "Les Miserables" returns to the Stadium Theatre for a two weekend run. This musical won numerous awards when it first opened on Broadway in 1987. The audience is transported back to early nineteenth century France and the brave stand for freedom. "Les Miserables" is as fresh today as when it first opened; and at last year's Tony Awards Show, the latest Broadway version won Best Musical Revival. Written by the great French poet and novelist, Victor Hugo, this version has music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean Marc Natal with English language libretto by Herbert Kretsmer. Director Fred Fortier and musical director Jeff Kimball lead their incredible 53 member cast with terrific voices in this thoroughly enjoyable epic adventure which moves you to laughter and tears along the way. A spontaneous standing ovation is their reward on a job very well done. Bravo!

Fred's blocking and staging of this show is mesmerizing and his blending of the dramatic and comic moments is superb. The staging of "Master of the House" and "Wedding Chorale" really shine with choreography by his lovely wife, Kathy, while Jeff's harmonic blend of voices soar in the group numbers, duets, trios and quartets especially stunning is "One Day More" closing of Act 1. Jeff also leads a topnotch 12 piece orchestra.The two story set by Fred is astounding while the colorful costumes are by Teal Griswold. Jason Denton leads the cast as Jean Valjean. He brings the necessary depth to this multilayered character with a checkered past and shows how he finds redemption by living a life of virtue. Jason's glorious tenor voice soars off the charts especially in "Bring Him Home" as he implores God to keep Marius safe during the siege and in "Who Am I?" where he confesses that he is the real Valjean to save an innocent man's life. Also astounding is Valjean's final solo before he dies when he asks God to bring him home and to love another person is to see the face of God. The audience is weeping at this point of the show as Fantine and Eponine appear to guide him into heaven. I last reviewed Jason as the lead in "Jekyll and Hyde" in February.

Greg Bonin is excellent as Valjean's nemesis, Javert. He has a phenonmenal vocal range where he belts out some bass notes that knock your socks off and then displays his high baritone a few notes later. Greg's two solo numbers are "Stars' where he compares his relentless hunt of Valjean and justice to the constellation order of the stars and the other is "Soliloquy" where he commits suicide when he realizes that Valjean is not pure evil as he always believed. Javert's realization of this fact destroys his lifelong view of the world. Both numbers stop the show with his powerful renditions. Jenni Wiech is excellent as the sympathetic Fantine. She wins over your heart with her acting and singing prowess of "I Dreamed a Dream" as she tells the audience about her troubled past life and in "Come to Me" as she lay dying in the hospital. This is where she begs Valjean to take care of her young daughter, Cosette. Jenni brings tears to your eyes in this song. This melody is used later for "On My Own". Jenni runs circles around the original Broadway Fantine, Randi Graff who was static and boring, having seen her in 1987. Little Cosette is played by pretty blonde, Kathryn Bliss. She displays her strong, beautiful voice in the wistful Castle on a Cloud" where she wishes to escape the clutches of the evil Thenardiers. Eponine's comic but despicable parents the Thenardiers are excellently played by Jonathan Keene and Nicole Franklin. They are two of the funniest performers I have seen perform these roles. Their voices soar in the show stopping comic number "Master of the House" as the Thenardiers swindle their customers and in "Waltz of the Thenardiers when they swindle money from Valjean for caring for Little Cosette. He is despicable in "Dog Eat Dog" as he carries little Gavroche's dead body through the sewers of Paris, pulling out his gold tooth and stealing his watch. They become comic again in "Beggars at the Feast" when they try to swindle money from Marius.Nicole who has a powerful voice stops the show with laughter in her verse of "Master of the House" when she describes her husband's little love making equipment. She is also dynamic in Act 1 when she mistreats Little Cosette.

Brian Lopes as Enjolras is another dynamic performer. His fabulous tenor voice is heard in the many student anthems including "Red and Black", "Do You Hear the People Sing?", "One More Day" and "Drink to Me." This latter song is very poignant being sung before the students meet their deaths at the barricade. One of the biggest scene stealers is Jacob Parkman as Gavroche. He is a handsome, blond hair boy of 12. When the character makes his first appearance with the street beggars in "The ABC Cafe", he is greeted with thunderous applause at the end of this number. His terrific voice soars in his solo "Little People" when he reveals that Javert is a spy. Gavroche dies heroically while trying to collect more ammunition when he is shot by a sniper. Kudos to the chorus with their fantastic voices in the group numbers. So for a magnificent production of this epic tale, be sure to catch "Les Miserables" at the Stadium Theatre. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Les Miserables" (8 -17 May)
@ Stadium Theatre, 28 Monmouth Square, WOONSOCKET RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide