BWW Reviews: You'll Want To Sing With LES MISERABLES at Dutch Apple
LES MISERABLES is one of the most popular, and therefore most produced, shows worldwide. There are productions of it that are revelations, that are nothing short of transcendent, and, at the other extreme, productions that have convinced this writer that it is the audience, not the indigent of Paris, who are "the miserable ones" in their agony.
The current production of LES MISERABLES at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre is, fortunately, not in the company of the latter - but it's also not transcendent. It's a sturdy, workmanlike production with a number of sterling qualities, the top of which is the performance of Jacob Waid as Jean Valjean, who has to be heard in "Bring Him Home" to be believed. It also has some serious drawbacks, the most notable of which is that though there are some excellent performances, this production simply does not feel epic. For a show that sweeps across decades, that throws the audience into the midst of turmoil and battle, and that scales the depths and the heights of human nature, it feels a bit... small. And although Dutch Apple has a fair-sized stage, the smallness of the show is partly that the sets in this production lack the grandeur of the usual LES MIS construction, which seems to be necessary for the show unless it's being produced as a staged concert.
It's a long show as well, one of the longer musicals around, and one questions director Brian Enzman's choices in including some extra music not normally seen or heard in the show, notably the song introducing the Thenardiers' tavern before "Master of the House," and "Dog Eat Dog," an extra song by now-former innkeeper Thenardier during a sewer crawl during the events of the Barricade. It's not that the music of Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil isn't inspiring (even if the show is notorious for only having five melodies all the way through, they're fine melodies), or the English lyrics of Herbert Kretzmer moving; it's that after a certain point during a show, particularly Broadway's 1980s giant blowout musicals such as this and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, you can feel time's lack of movement during numbers that don't really advance the plot.
Maya Naff plays one of the finest Eponines this writer has had the pleasure of seeing, her "On My Own" a delight, and her "A Little Fall of Rain" with Nick Lerew, the production's Marius, sufficient to put a veteran LES MIS reviewer into a bout of teary eyes. Similarly, Amanda Kuchinski is a well-cast Fantine, though her death scene is, if anything, perhaps a bit too restrained, as opposed to the horrid tendency to over-play it in most productions.
Unrestrained, on the other hand, is the hallmark of the husband and wife from hell, the Thenardiers. Andrea Spencer Christensen is without doubt one of the most charmingly awful - that's a compliment, if one knows the Thenardiers - Mme. Thenardiers around, and John Anker Bow a hysterically sleazy buffoon of an evildoer as Thenardier himself. These are a pair of Thenardiers that Victor Hugo himself would be proud to see smarming their way across the stage and into French society. Their "Beggars at the Feast" scene is one of the most neatly-produced versions around, and perhaps one might as well just give up and sing along with their "Master of the House." It's difficult to restrain the urge when these two gallivant about their corners of Paris. As a side note, the costuming in this production is sensational, but perhaps nowhere is it more evident than in Mme. Thenardier's absolutely delicious ball gown, which is over-the-top in a far, far more attractive way than it's frequently rendered by costumers.
Adam Clough is a solidly-voiced Javert. Is it his own idea, or is it the direction, that causes him to lose the end of the opening scene, and thus much of the drama of the rest of the show, by tossing out such a diffident "And I am Javert - do not forget my name" at Valjean? It's a line that needs to grab an audience by the throat, not to sound like "Yeah, Valjean, whatever." Fortunately, Javert's iron will asserts itself further in the production. By the time of the fight in Fantine's hospital room all is well with Javert's single-minded firmness so that the rest of his seemingly eternal struggle with Valjean makes sense. His breakdown and suicide then not only have meaning, but they're carried out gloriously - if only his first scenes were so strong.
If you're up for an evening of fabulous singing and for a particularly feisty pair of Thernardiers, this is a fine production, and if you've never seen LES MISERABLES (there are still a few out there, we hear), it's well worth the trip. It may not be utterly breathtaking, but if not epic-feeling, it's still honest work, just reward, and that's the way to please an audience (with apologies to Inspector Javert).
At Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre through June 13. The poor Parisians may be miserable; you won't be, as long as you keep the show's length in mind. Given the length and subject matter, it's not suitable for younger children. As for teens, many have gotten hooked on it, and there are far worse addictions, so absolutely consider taking them. For tickets and information, visit www.dutchapple.com or call 717-898-1900.