Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Les Miserables"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2007 by Tony Annicone

"Les Miserables"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current show at North Shore Music Theatre is the Northeast Regional Theatre Premiere of the 8-time Tony Award winning musical "Les Miserables". It is a unique production created solely for NSMT's theatre in the round. "Les Miserables" is a musical composed in 1980 by French composer Claude-Michel Schonberg with a libretto by Alain Boublil. Through-sung, it is perhaps the most famous of all French musicals and one of the most performed musicals worldwide. The musical is based on the novel by Victor Hugo and tells the stories of multiple characters, including: a paroled convict named Jean Valjean who, failing attempts to find work as an honest man with his yellow ticket of leave, breaks his parole and conceals his identity in order to live his life again; the police inspector Javert, who becomes obsessed with finding Valjean; Fantine, the single mother of Cosette, who is forced to become a prostitute to support her daughter; Marius, a French student who falls in love with Valjean's adopted daughter Cosette; Eponine, the young daughter of the Thenardiers who is hopelessly in love with Marius; the Thenardiers, who own an inn and exploit their customers; and Enjolras and the other students who are working toward freeing the oppressed lower class of France. One of the main themes of this epic tale is the story of Javert's fall from grace by his overly obsessive behavior and Valjean's rise from despair after having been imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving child. After being helped by the Bishop of Digne, Valjean swears a life of living up to his expectations of him while Javert unable to accept Valjean's heroic behavior by not killing him during the siege at the barricade, commits suicide. The truly tragic character in this show is Fantine who makes difficult choices in her life but ultimately sacrifices herself so her daughter, Cosette might have a better life. Young Cosette is left in the care of the unscrupulous Thenardiers who mistreat her horribly and she is eventually rescued and adopted by Valjean. Years later Marius, the rebel student falls in love with her at first sight. He is one of the only ones to survive the siege at the barricade. M. and Madame Thenardier are evil characters who are the comic relief in the show. They own an inn and cheat their customers and later on he steals from the dead to become a war profiteer and a rich man by the close of the show. Their heroic daughter, Eponine is also in love with Marius and helps Cosette and him find each other. She is one of the first to die at the barricades while performing an act of heroism. The charismatic, handsome and natural leader of the students, Enjolras leads the students in the uprising where they meet their demise. Gavroche, a street urchin also dies heroically in the uprising and shows his courage many times before that. Director/choreographer Barry Ivan and musical director, Anne Shuttlesworth lead their fabulous cast with terrific voices in this thoroughly enjoyable epic adventure which moves to you tears and to laughter while doing so. A standing ovation at the close of the show is its reward. Bravo.

Barry's choreography shines in "Master of the House" and "Wedding Chorale" while Anne's harmonic blend of voices soar in the group numbers, duets, trios and quartets.The turntable set by Michael Anania is topnotch as are the colorful costumes are by Robert Fletcher and Susan Picinich. Fred Inkley leads the cast as Jean Valjean. He brings depth to this multi-faceted character with a checkered past, he finds redemption by living a life of virtue. Fred's glorious tenor voice soars off the charts especially in "Bring Him Home" as he asks 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 Valjan's final solo before he dies when he asks God to bring him home. Valjean's nemesis, Javert is well played by Devin Richards. He has an incredible vocal range where he belts out some bass notes that knock your socks off and then he shows off a high baritone a few notes later. Devin's two solo numbers are "Stars" where he compares his relentless hunt of Valjean and justice to the constellation order of the stars and "Soliloquy" where he commits suicide when he realizes that Valjean is not purely evil as he always thought which destroys his lifelong view of the world. Jacquelyn Piro Donovan is excellent as the sympathetic Fantine.(Having seen the show in 1987 with the static Randy Graff in this role, Jacquelyn runs circles around her.) She wins your heart over 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, begging Valjean to take care of her daughter. (This melody is later used for "On My Own".) Young Cosette is played by Joanna Rosen who's strong and beautiful voice is heard in "Castle on a Cloud".

Charles Hagerty as Marius has a gorgeous tenor voice which he shows off in his solo, "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables", a tear jerking song about his dead comrades, in the romantic ballad "A Heart Full of Love" with Cosette and Eponine, the quartet "In My Life" and the duet as Eponine dies called "A Little Rain". Charles' voice is also heard in the group numbers "Red and Black", "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and "One Day More". The gorgeous ingenue, Cosette is played by Renee Brna who has a marvelous soprano voice which soars off the charts in her duets with Charles. The harmonic blend in the reprise of "A Heart Full of Love" with Charles and Fred is astounding. The heroic Eponine is wonderfully played by Joanne Javien. Her fantastic voice is heard in "On My Own" where she decides to stand by Marius even though he is in love with Cosette and after she is fatally shot in "A Little Fall of Rain" which is a tear jerking and emotionally draining number. Joanne gives the character a backbone with an endearing quality which makes the audience root for her. Eponine's comic but despicable parents are excellently portrayed by Ron Wisniski and Inga Ballard. They are hilarious in "Master of the House" as they swindle their customers. He is particularly loathsome as he robs the dead bodies in "Dog Eat Dog"and comic again as they reenter during the finale dressed to the nines in red wigs to swindle Marius out of money during "Beggars at the Feast". Inga is a hoot as she sings her verse of "Master of the House" where she describes her husband's small love making prowess. She is a dynamo as she mistreats young Cosette, too. Another dynamic presence in the show is Charlie Brady as Enjolras who has a glorious tenor voice which sells the many anthems he sings with his fellow students and Marius including "Red and Black", "Do You Hear the People Sing?,"One Day More" and "Drink to Me of Days Gone By". One of the biggest scene stealers in this show is also one of the youngest, 11 year old Sebastian Hoffman as Gavroche who makes his first appearance with the street beggars, the ABC Cafe and "Little People" where he reveals Javert is a spy. He heroically dies trying to collect more ammunition and is shot by a sniper. Kudos also to the chorus with their fabulous voices in all their numbers, too. So for a look at the premiere of "Les Miserables" outside of Broadway, be sure to catch it at NSMT before time runs out.

"Les Miserables" (23 October - 18 November)
NORTH SHORE MUSIC THEATER
62 Dunham Road, BEVERLY MA
1 (978)232-7200

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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