BWW Reviews: McCallum Fine Arts Academy Stages Darker LES MISERABLES
Earlier this season, I did something slightly unorthodox when I attended and reviewed Bonnie and Clyde at McCallum Fine Arts Academy. Over the past months, I've been asked about that review on more than one occasion, and the questions have typically been regarding why I'd review a High School production. The answer: McCallum Fine Arts Academy doesn't do High School theater. They do Theater. With a capital T. The quality of the work from these young performers and designers is just as strong as what you'd find from other Austin-based theater companies, and that tradition of quality continues with their current production of Les Miserables.
Les Miserables is without question one of the most ambitious productions McCallum has ever attempted. The material is notoriously demanding, but McCallum puts its own stamp on it, largely due to director Joshua Denning's interesting and unorthodox vision for the show. Denning, who starred as Enjolras in Zach Theatre's recent production of the musical, takes a darker, edgier approach with this production. Those darker hues are most apparent in Jacob Stahl's lighting and Lee Hausman-Cohen's set. Stahl and Hausman-Cohen, both student designers, have created a dangerous and scary world. The set, with its clear nods to German Expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, is particularly unexpected but effective, but what is more extraordinary is that the work of these student designers is as clear, polished, and focused as the work of professional designers in the area. These two, along with costume designers Sara Walls and Dominoe Jones, are artists to watch, and the same can be said of the cast.
As Valjean, Connor Barr gives a performance that is (there's no nice or diplomatic way to say this) better than Zach Theatre's Valjean, Pat McRoberts. While I criticized McRoberts' "thin, frail voice," Barr's voice has a blend of power and gentility. I also said that McRobert's acting was "bizarre and awkward" and "punctuated with strange facial contortions," while Barr on the other hand gives a constantly present, believable, and engaging performance. If Barr plans on pursuing a career in theater, I sincerely hope he likes this show. I'd bet this will not be the only time he performs in a production of Les Miserables. I could easily see Barr playing one of the student revolutionaries at some point during his 20s and maybe revisiting Valjean in his 30s or 40s.
If Barr sets the...well...bar, the rest of the cast certainly meets it. Every full cast number looks and sounds exquisite, and that is a testament to the hardworking ensemble of over 60 young performers. Despite the fact that many of his character's best moments are cut (it is high school. They can't do the full nine hour show), Dylan Tacker gives a fantastic performance as Javert. His gruff, growling voice nicely contracts Barrs, and his acting of the straight-laced and relentless policeman is outstanding. Sage Stoakley, who gave an exceptional performance in Bonnie and Clyde, does so again here. Stoakley's voice is beautiful and haunting, and her portrayal of the sorrowful, wistful Fantine is heartbreaking. As Eponine, Quinlyn Tesar seems cut from the same cloth as Stoakley. Her voice is magnificent and pure, and she has the same moving and poignant affect.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
LES MISERABLES plays McCallum Fine Arts Academy at 5600 Sunshine Dr, Austin 78756 now thru Sunday, March 2nd. Performances are Saturday 3/1 at 7pm and Sunday 3/2 at 2pm. Tickets are $6-$15. For tickets and information, visit www.mactheatre.org.