NSMT crafts an emotional, intimate ‘Les Misérables’
BEVERLY — The debut of the hit musical “Les Misérables” in the West End of London in 1985 and on Broadway in 1987 heralded an era of big-budgeted, mega-cast, sprawling musicals that ran literally for decades.
It was the kind of show that was off-limits to regional theaters for years as the Broadway and touring productions ran on and on.
North Shore Music Theatre finally acquired the rights in 2007, and decided to perform it again this season, its second shot at the piece, but the first under owner Bill Hanney.
And while the staging does pose problems in the in-the-round configuration, NSMT has again found a way to put its own stamp on the piece, and the result is a satisfying, at times thrilling, take on a modern classic.
“Les Miz,” based on the classic Victor Hugo novel, boasts a different vibe and conceit because of the in-the-round presentation. It makes the show more intimate and emotional, because theater-goers are so close to the action that he or she can feel the theatrical heat being generated by the cast members just a few feet away.
Director/Choreographer Marc Robin has skillfully manipulated and moved the cast of 27 through the -three-hour series of musical numbers in the sung-through show that, stitched together, connect to form the life story of Jean Valjean (Will Ray), the 19th Century Frenchman sent to prison for stealing bread for his sister’s starving son. After 19 years of hard labor in prison, he emerges and tries to make his way through the world, only to find almost-constant heartache.
The score by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer will assign a show-stopper or two to each of the principals in the cast. Two of the best-known are “I Dreamed a Dream,” sung by the doomed young mother Fantine (Daniella Dalli), and “On My Own,” the second-act paean to unrequited love performed by Lizzie Klemperer as Eponine.
Both songs have been performed so often by so many that the trick at this point is to make the song your own; both renditions are perfectly fine, but Klemperer is more successful in putting her own stamp on her song.
The kids are all right. Gavin Swartz as the downtrodden young Gavroche and Carly Williams as Young Cosette hold their own with the more seasoned professionals.
There has been publicity about actor Blake Stadnik being legally blind and how it might affect his performance as Marius, the romantic lead, but it is a tribute to both his work ethic and his ability to concentrate that he accomplishes all that needs to be done in the role with seeming ease, and his pure, sweet voice provides a vocal highlight whenever he‘s called upon, and especially in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”
He also has some lovely duets with Siri Howard as the older Cosette, including “A Heart Full of Love.”.
Steve Czarnecki is another strong voice as Enroljas, the leader of the student revolutionaries who hope to spark an uprising among the downtrodden.
There have been all kinds of Jean Valjeans, and Ray is the sturdy leading man type, a strong physical presence with a voice to match. He easily passes the can-I-sustain-the-falsetto test on “Bring Him Home.”
A small makeup/costume note: I might age him a bit more in the scenes around the time of the barricade, since it appears to the discerning theater-goer that Javert is aging and he is not.
Danny Rothman makes for a worthy foe as Javert, the self-righteous lawman who pursues Valjean through the years, and his takes on “Stars” and “Soliloquy” are two more of the evening’s vocal highlights.
Tregoney Shepherd and Gary Troy effectively fill the comic relief roles of the Thenardiers but I’d like to see dirtied up a bit more, make-up wise, to further accent the low-lifes they truly are.
Dan Efros’ spot-on lighting hones in on the principals at just the right time, and Leon Rothenberg’s sound design captures the sounds of battle and syncs up beautifully between the vocals and the music.
NSMT has managed to shoehorn Music Director Andrew Bryan and a total of 14 musicians into the theater’s compact orchestra pit, allowing the orchestrations by John Cameron to be heard in their full glory; there’s nothing worse than a big musical being played by a small orchestra.
There are logistical challenges in the barricade scene. If you build it too large, someone somewhere’s view is being blocked. Robin allows the actors to build the barricade off to one side and then has actors come towards it from offstage. It ain’t perfect, but it works well enough.
“Les Miz” completes the season of five regular musicals — Hanney’s fifth at the helm — with a season that has been, to most observers, the most successful yet. And here, no matter where you sit in the theater, the full glory of “Les Miz” will be in your lap.
The North Shore Music Theatre production of “Les Misérables.” Book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo; Original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel; Additional text by James Fenton. Directed and choreographer by Marc Robin. Music direction by Andrew Bryan Scenic design by Bert Scott (Scenic Design), Kurt Alger (Costume Design), Jack Mehler(Lighting Design), Leon Rothenberg (Sound Design), Gerard Kelly (Wig and Hair Design), Through Nov. 16. http://www.nsmt.org.