BWW Reviews: Broad Brook's LES MISERABLES Has Us Seeing Stars
The tenacious Inspector Javert has been on the trail of the elusive Jean Valjean since 1862 when Victor Hugo's mammoth novel Les Miserables was first published. The book is one of the most significant of the 19th century. Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg's musical adaptation became one of the most significant musicals of the 20th century.
All of that history makes Les Miserables a pretty huge deal, odd when you consider that all of the action spins out from a pretty small deal - Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. For this infraction, Valjean is imprisoned for 19 years and on the run from Inspector Javert for 15 years, a high price for carbo-loading.
Now that the rights have reverted to schools and community theatres, small companies have to figure out how to wrestle down Hugo's near-2,000 page story and Boublil-Schoenberg's 3 hour-plus, multi-million dollar epic into something manageable. This is no easy task and the folks at the quaint Broad Brook Opera House have decided to storm the barricades.
How do they fare? Well, let's use the stars that guide Inspector Javert to decide their fates. A flawless production is four stars. A production worthy of the Paris sewers would be one star. We start with four stars for pure gumption just putting on the show and for having the good sense to cast with vocal performances in mind. The singing in the show is by and large wonderful, with exceptional singing and acting from Tim Reilly as Javert, Gabbi Karrubba as Eponine, Shaun O'Keefe as Enjolras, and Kendra Scott as Fantine.
A star that cancels itself out are some of the performances that are mixed blessings. Luis Manzi's Jean Valjean is well sung and heartfelt, but essentially remains one-note throughout the three hour proceedings. That's a long time for a man on the run to stay in one place. Manzi is awarded a sympathy half-star for having a "show must go on" attitude,performing in a leg splint with walker the night I attended the show.
Randy Davidson makes for a similarly well sung and dashing Marius. His love scenes with Cosette are affecting, but he never quite seems like a stalwart student rebel, especially in his Act I Little Lord Fauntelroy outfit. Conversely, Kaytlyn Vandeloecht makes for a charming Cosette, but pushes her voice uncomfortably in the higher registers where most of her songs reside. Paul DiProto and Christine Voyko are nominally fine as the devious Thenardiers who usually steal everything including the show, but here are intermittently funny.
A big, fat star for the two youngsters who are scene-stealers, Maeve Jordan as Gavroche and Lily Girard as Young Cosette (alternately played by Teagan Krieger). These two stars-in-the-making are truly fantastic performers.
A star off for the usually problematic sound issues at Broad Brook Opera House. Some of the performers are wired with microphones; others are not. Weaker voiced cast members appearing in scenes with stronger voices are further diminished by the amplification issues, often rendering the lyrics muffled, unintelligible, or coming out of a speaker on the opposite side of the theatre. The band at times overwhelms the thinner voices and makes the normally lush score at times sound like what the show really is, a Victorian melodrama.
Put that star back for the show's exceptional, professional-quality lighting and costume design. With a minimalist scenic design - just two rolling staircases and the odd piece of furniture - the lights by Sharon FitzHenry pick up the slack and provide interesting atmospherics. The costume design by Moonyean Field is exceptional and shows where most of the budget wisely resides. Dock a half-star for some terrible wigs that alternately make Jean Valjean look like a reject from Rock of Ages, Fantine look like Loretta Lynn, and Enjolras like a One Day at a Time-era Bonnie Franklin.
Add a star for director Sharon FitzHenry taking on the task of staging this monster of a show. I would dock her a half star for not straying too far from the original stand-and-deliver staging that threatens to turn the play into a concert. Put the half-star back for the literal heavy-lifting she had to do on Opening Night when her Jean Valjean was injured, shadowing his performance. Finally, dock a half-star as the second act is fairly tedious and there is little any director can do to solve that problem.
So, how many stars does Inspector Javert have before his thrilling demise? I lost count and I'm terrible at math, but I would rate the show as worth about 3 loaves of bread which could get you 19 years in a French prison. Run to get tickets before Javert finds you.
Theatre: Opera House Players
Location: Broad Brook Opera House, 107 Main Street, Broad Brook, CT
Production: Book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer; Music by Claude-Michel Schoenberg; Directed, Set and Lighting Design by Sharon FitzHenry; Costume Design by Moonyean Field; Music Direction by Bill Martin. Through May 18; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets $17-$21, visit www.operahouseplayers.org or call (860) 292-6068.
Photo of Tim Reilly courtesy of the Opera House Players.