Les Misérables, book by Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, based on a novel by Victor Hugo, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Directed by Tim Fort.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"To love another person is to see the face of God."
Jean Valjean is falsely convicted of a minor crime, spends nineteen years in prison, moves on to avoid the public censure afforded ex-convicts and is pursued by a policeman with a vengeance-factor second to none. Along the way in life, Valjean steals some silver from a priest who exonerates him, then becomes the successful farmer/merchant/mayor of a small town, adopts an orphan child, becomes involved in the 1832 student revolution in Paris, saves the life of a young man and becomes the instrument of another man’s suicide. It’s quite a career and certainly worthy of a song. Authors Boubil, Schönberg and Kretzmer go one better. They have made him the hero of a three hour, through composed, completely sung Broadway opera. That show is now gracing the main stage of the Weston Playhouse in Weston, Vermont.
To play this hero a theatrical company needs a man who can be believable for all of the character’s attributes including phenomenal physical strength, who can also be attractive but not overpoweringly so, and can sing in a high tessitura with ease and sustain notes no man should be forced to encounter. Weston has a very good choice on stage in the person of Roger Seyer. Seyer can float the high notes, as he does in "Bring Him Home," but not in full voice it seems, yet there they are. He can carry another man through the sewer sets of the second act and believably lift - off-stage - a heavy carriage off of another man. He plays the fortitude, the honesty and the fear of a man constantly in pursuit of personal freedom with aplomb. In all respects he is the hero of this sung story.
The three women whose presence affects his own are Fantine, played with an ear-chilling brilliance by Jennifer Zimmerman, her child Cosette played as a young woman by Suzanna Neeley Bridges and as a child by Zoë Perra and Eponine, a waif, played with chilling clarity by Marissa McGowan. Perra and Bridges each exhibit qualities that amplify their character and Bridges is very beautiful in her love scenes. McGowan nearly brings down the house with her final song "On My Own" which has been an enduring hit tune from this show since its premiere in 1980.
As Marius, the man loved by both young women, Jonathan Root seems ideal. Handsome with a lyrical tenor voice, he carried forward all of the emotional quests in this play with honesty. His friend Enjolras, a rabble-rouse revolutionary, is played with handsome appeal and vocal strengths by Matt Stokes. In the first act finale, an octet with chorus, Stokes leads his sidekicks in the famous walk-front routine, a martial moment in the show, with so much hip reality that he becomes a visual tyrant in the making. It was soul-stirring.
James Abrams gave life and reality to the youngster Gavroche and Andy Jobe, in the chorus, sang with a rich and new voice that should be put to greater use in some other show, soon.
Joseph Anthony Foronda played Javert, the policeman with an ugly fortitude that worked most of the time, but not all of the time. His suicide, choreographed by Susan Hagan and directed by Tim Fort was a beautiful fall into the Seine. The Master of the House and his wife, two reprehensible comic figures, were well played by Allen Kendall and Karen Elliott.
This has never been a favorite show of mine, I must admit. The tunes are lovely and the recitative - that sung conversational part of the show - is dull, dull, dull. There’s nothing anyone can do about it, so there’s no longer any reason to carp about it. After all the show ran for 19 years on Broadway. It’s just that bad writing of this sort makes a show less enthralling, I think. In this production, with singer/actors who can do the work well, it seemed a bit less annoying but having long sentences sung on a single note is still just monotone and threatens to be monotonous.
A good sized company graced the not overly-large stage in Weston on sets that were remarkably agile and flexible, designed brilliantly by Howard Jones. Karen Ann Ledger gave the clothing of the period another shade other than black, beige and gray and found a life in the characters wearing them that had been sorely lacking in New York. Jack Mehler provided the landscape with lighting that gave both place and time a season to wear. I cannot imagine this show looking any better than it did on the Weston stage.
Robert Meffe, the conductor and the man responsible for the musical reduction from the original orchestrations, does a fine job, but the miking of the orchestra often drowned out the ensemble singers in their solos. A special Bravo! to the wigs and makeup.
Les Miz, as it is known, is a show for people who have the capacity and endurance for it. I had a good time at this production, the best time I’ve ever had at it. I came away singing three or four of the numbers which is something I always pray for with a musical. I was moved to tears by the ending(s) within the show. All in all, this is a production worth investigating whether or not you liked the original. All the guns are fired upstage so all you risk is liking something a bit more than you planned on.
(from 4th from left) Marissa McGowan, Jonathan Root, Matt Stokes, Andy Jobe and company; photo: Tim Fort
Marissa McGowan as Eponine; photo: Tim Fort
Suzanna Neely Bridges, Roger Seyer, and Jonathan Root; photo: Tim Fort
Les Misérables plays at the Weston Playhouse in Weston, Vermont through August 23. Tickets range in price from $35-$55. For full schedule and for tickets check out their website at www.westonplayhouse.org or call 802-824-5288.