Alons enfants de la Patrie
There are so many reasons, so many lovely moments that make Company Theatre’s LES MISERABLES (through Aug. 17th) a must see this summer, that I hardly know where to begin. Even if you’ve seen your fair share of LES MIZ productions (and I’ve seen more than my share) you’ll be surprised and immensely pleased to see how Company Theatre’s fresh, new approach enlivens the hit Boubil/Schonberg musical.
Directors Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman add delicate, subtle but profoundly moving touches in almost every scene. The ensemble numbers swell with such excitement and urgency that you’re swept into the whirlwind of revolution from the get-go. (Even the scenery appears and disappears in a trice so as not to interrupt the flow of the material.) Sally Ashton Forrest contributes smart, lively choreography, so that, for instance, the “Beggars at the Feast” scene features genteel celebrants hilariously adopting the tacky Thenardier dance!
Each character is drawn in full relief, with first rate performances all around, from Michael Warner’s thoughtful, noble Jean Valjean to Bill McColgan’s saintly Bishop, from Jessica Golden’s doomed Fantine to Erin McMillen’s gentle Cosette, from Brendan Paine’s dashing young student to James Fernandez and the other student revolutionaries on the barricade.
Everyone loves to watch the nasty Thernadiers hold sway and they’re played full tilt by Maryann Zschau and Christopher J. Hagberg but what makes this LES MIZ intensely compelling are two characters who drive the plot: The instant Andrew Giordano arrives as Valjean’s nemesis, Javert, you are keenly aware of the threat. His crisp, sure military bearing and powerful presence (not to mention his very tall hat) set the outsized operatic standard for the musical. Jennifer Glick, too, as Eponine, moves the love story along with her unrequited affection for Marius. When she lies dying, at last in his arms, we feel the full cathartic weight of the Victor Hugo epic.
What struck me, even more than the superb staging, are Company Theatre’s choral singing—and the gorgeous orchestrations, music directed by Michael V. Joseph. This is the third iteration of the Broadway score, one which pares down the strings and seems to support the lyrics (rather than overwhelming them). For example, Valjean’s final reprise of “Bring Him Home” where he asks God to “take me now…to thy care” is accompanied simply and elegantly by solo cello (Kett Lee). The effect is breathtaking. Joseph turns LES MIZ into an oratorio with the emotional impact of a masterful choral work.
Reagle Music Theatre is revisiting one of its more successful ventures (I’ve seen their three previous productions of the musical), with the stage version of the Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen movie, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (playing through Aug. 17th). It’s a huge undertaking because they have to install a trough for the rain to exit in the big number and because of the B&W film the company has to shoot from scratch to jumpstart the plot. (Silent movies are left behind by the “talkies” and the reigning leading lady sounds like a truck driver!)
The love story at the heart of the movie matches the Gene Kelly character (Sean Quinn) with a young chorine (Gillian Mariner Gordon) who has her mind set on a Broadway career. She gets her break, of course, (and the man, to boot). A parallel phenomenon is at work in real life because this is Gordon’s big break, playing lead opposite two Broadway veterans. She shines every step of the way, radiating warmth and effortless poise.
You’ll recognize Reagle regulars Beth Martin as an erstwhile Hedda Hopper, Daren Kelly as the old school movie director, R. Glen Michell as the studio boss, Daniel Forest Sullivan as the cop on the beat (not to mention the charming Joseph Caliguri as a flustered technician in the demonstration film). These versatile actors always turn in solid, vibrant performances, whether leads or supporting characters. Christopher A. King, too, as the production tenor in this run (in the ‘Beautiful Girl’ cavalcade) and Katelyn Prominski channeling Cyd Charisse in the “Gotta Dance” sequence (choreographed by Eileen Grace and Kirby Ward), add considerable depth to the production.
The two Broadway performers in the lead (Quinn and Edward Tolve) dance like gangbusters but something was amiss the night I attended. They just didn’t seem comfortable in the Kelly and Donald O’Connor roles (Who would, you might ask!) “Make ‘Em Laugh” didn’t and although “Good Morning” did, the “Singin’ in the Rain” number seemed forced to me. (Microphone problems didn’t help Ward’s production, either.)
Noreen Hughes as the gravel voiced silent movie star was all over the map, as if she just picked up the script. Some of the time the gruffness in her voice just vanished leaving me wondering why none of the studio people noticed this. Alas, the uneven production felt tired and worn to me, just like the creased and peeling backdrop rentals that have seen better days.