Monday, February 4, 2013

Live Performance Review: Les Misérables

The stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, performed as part of the PNC Broadway in West Michigan series at Miller Audition, is luminous and bewitching. The 60-member cast and crew work together seamlessly to create a well-oiled and evocative production.

Peter Lockyer plays Jean Valjean, the dependable protagonist, who, per the request of the dying Fantine, rescues Little Cosette from the clutches of a despicable innkeeper and his wife. Lockyer’s vocals and stage presence are as sturdy as his character. He leads the cast with ease and grace in numbers such as “The Bargain” and “In My Life.” 

Natalie Beck, who plays the innkeeper’s wife and Andrew Varela, who plays Inspector Javert, are also a delight to watch. Though minor characters, both actors command attention when on stage. In the number “Master of the House,” Beck’s use of body language and props, including a French baguette, are outrageously funny (and crude). Varela’s soliloquy in Act I, titled “Stars,” is one of the sweetest, richest vocal numbers of the production.

The children, too, hold their own in the show. The voice of 9-year-old Erin Clearlock as Little Cosette is harrowing and raw. Her rendition of “Castle on a Cloud” evokes a seismic emotional reaction that sends chills up the spine. Joshua Colley, who plays the mischievous Gavroche, delivers cheeky one-liners in a squeaky voice to gruff men twice his height and three times his age. Colley helps lighten the mood of the somber story and dark musical accompaniment.    

Gloomy as it may sound, the live orchestra, conducted by Lawrence Goldberg, infuses life into all aspects of the production. Ryu Cipris’ flute solo in the number “On My Own,” for example, is even more haunting than the words the heartbroken Éponine sings. The orchestra also makes set changes nearly undetectable.

Standing at least 20 feet tall and often jutting far across the stage, the sets are incorporated effortlessly into the actors’ spheres. The multi-layered barricade in Act II creates new spaces for the performers to explore and gives breadth and depth to the stage.

The combat scenes, choreographed by Ben Gunderson and Heather Chockley, also deserve accolade. While far from complex, the stage fights are fluid and believable. It is clear the actors trust their bodies and fellow performers.

Heart wrenchingly tragic, but not over-the-top, the Broadway in West Michigan rendition of Les Misérables leaves little to be desired.  

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your review Alaina. Especially as someone who has only seen the film version of "Les Mis" I appreciated a critique of a live performance (which after hearing about "Les Mis" for years yet then being disappointed by the film, I assume is the superior medium for the musical). Not only did you give some great feedback on actor's individual performances, but your note about the orchestra's talent and their ability to aid transitions was something I never would have thought to include. It really made me think about the instrumentation of the musicals I see and not just about the vocals. I also loved your description of the combat scenes and how the actor's performances correlated to their effectiveness. I don't even know if this is relevant, but I guess I was curious about your thoughts on "Les Mis" itself: how it works as a narrative, the quality of the songs, etc. I don't know if that's necessary since it's so well-known and renowned, but I guess I just wanted to hear more of your thoughts and your great writing :)