presented by The Actorsingers
directed by Will McGregor
musically directed by Judy Hayward
written by guest blogger Lowell Williams
Eponine, the daughter of the scoundrel Thenardier, is in love with Marius, the student radical, who, on one fateful day, catches but a glimpse of Cosette, her step-sister now living in the care of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict who hides from the police under an assumed identity… and falls madly in love with her.
Marius pleads with his dear friend Eponine to discover where Cosette lives, and Eponine obliges him; her feelings for him run that deep. She would do anything for him, anything at all; a devotion quite common to each of them.
These are just a few minutes of the storyline of LES MISERABLES, the musical now finishing its first weekend with the Actorsingers at the Keefe Auditorium in Nashua. It can be a handful keeping it all straight.
LES MISERABLES began its English-speaking life with the Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 1985. It opened, as many new shows do, suffering the disdain of the critics. But audiences loved it, and it still plays in that town to this day, nearly thirty years later.
Despite being heavy-handed, the music and ballads soar irresistibly. It’s hard not to be moved by the touching melody of “I Dreamed a Dream,” whispering a soothing, terrifying, all too familiar story. Later on, try to resist the urge to raise your hand when you are asked “Do You Hear the People Sing?”
These flawed, deeply religious characters, set against the 19th century France of the Victor Hugo novel, yearning for the simplest of things we take for granted every day, somehow creep into our souls. Their painful, yet hopeful song stays with you, long after the echo of the final note has diminished.
Even the thought of producing a musical like this one, with the memories of thousands of performances of the RSC, Broadway and many touring shows still glimmering in the minds of the audience, would give any company pause.
Because there are some facts you must face: you must do the whole thing, following as closely as you can to what they did. There’s really no other way.
This show calls for lavish costumes, pyrotechnics, actors who can belt it out, and a convincing suicide of a man jumping from a bridge. Your set must house a mansion, a factory, sewer tunnels, a couple varieties of inns and restaurants and a barricade from where the people will fight.
Audiences really love this show and have had to make do with the High School Edition up to now. So whoever does it "first" has to do it right.
I’m pleased to tell you, the Actorsingers' production accomplishes all those things pretty damned well.
The barricade is spectacular, the sewer a silvery dark place, and, yes, a man jumps convincingly to his death.
There are instances of inharmonious and grating feedback from the sound system- frankly, an all-too common occurrence with Actorsinger shows; this particular community theatre is firmly in the grips of the badly-engineered body mic, now and forever. A followspot doesn't always follow; once or twice, a performer is left to play his or her part in the dark.
I have to say, however, that none of the glitches matter. Because I want you to go see this show and snuggle ever so carefully into your seat, breathe deeply, and take a moment to close your eyes.
You’ll know just when to do this: as you listen to Max McGrath’s Jean Valjean. Those glimmering memories, if you have them, will be renewed. If this is your first time seeing “Le Miz” you'll get a taste of the performance of Colm Wilkinson from 1985.
McGrath follows that actor’s path, too, and accomplishes an astonishing likeness. It’s worth the ticket just for that.
The other leads do not disappoint. Shawna Ciampa as Fantine, Sheree Owens’ Eponine, and Joe Paoni’s Marius nail their numbers and swim through the sheer, complex music to tell a story.
Mark Schwartzberg turns in a convincing Javert, the unapologetic police constable, who surmounts the difficulty of musically fencing with his quarry Valjean while still remaining understood. Shawn Koczarski as Enjolras, stern and demanding, stirs the heart.
Don Higgins’ Thenardier, and his wife, as played by Debra Buckley, are delightfully evil, if at times consumed by the low-brow Cockney.
Costuming for the Thenardiers is formidable and impressive. Even little Ben Morton’s Gavroche is plucky and delightful.
Sometimes the acting portions of the play fall against the heavy cannons of melodrama, but that can be forgiven, outshone as they are by outstanding vocals from the entire cast and the accomplished orchestrations.
Special congratulations to the production team, led by director Will McGregor (who also designed the set and posters), musical director Judy Hayward, producer Cheryl Stocks, and the team running the show every night, technical director Dennis Schneider and stage managers Michelle Morrison and Gretchen Gray.
While clearly some compromises had to be made, the design and execution is also pretty damned good. Go see this show.
LES MISERABLES runs through next weekend at the Keefe Auditorium, on Elm Street in Nashua. See the Actorsingers website for tickets and information.