BWW Reviews: LES MISERABLES at Possum Point Players
POSTCRIPT - It is not often that I get to revisit a play, but my wife and I attended the Saturday, Sept. 5 (closing weekend) performance of Possum Point's Les Miserables. I am pleased to report that the cast, through time and, perhaps, growing confidence, virtually eliminated those cavils published in my original review. I am particularly pleased to report that Steve Givens unleashed his inner Javert to wonderful effect, easily matching Bob Frazier's Valjean in their confrontations. It elevated a really good show to a remarkable show.
LES MISERABLES is a challenging musical for any theater. Community theaters must carefullly consider before attempting to mount a production of a show with highly technical staging, large casts, and specific character portrayal, as well as one for which most audience members will have preconceived notions.
Possum Point Players (Georgetown, Delaware) accepted the challenge of the large cast, complex, technical show and succeeded admirably. They trimmed both sets and cast down to the essential and practical.
Bob Frazier performs well as Jean Valjean. He seemed a bit shaky early in the opening night performance, but his "Bring Him Home" soared and he managed to portray the development of his character from hardened "con" to the fully developed person the Bishop of Digne (John Hulse) prayed that he would become. I hope that Possum Point's costumers can find him some better wigs for early scenes; they were a source of distraction from his performance, perhaps to him as well.
Mr. Frazier's Valjean isn't quite matched by Steve Givens as his lifelong nemesis Inspector Javert. Javert's appearance is appropriately grave, but his moral certitude and unbending strength doesn't come through. As a result, neither does the soul-shattering loss of certainty that eventually destroys him. Mr. Givens has a good voice, but not a particularly strong voice; it was sometimes lost in his verbal sparring with Valjean and when he directed his attention upstage - a trait not uncommon among this cast. Mr. Givens' presentation of Javert's aria "Stars" was note-perfect and moving.
Morgan Burris is absolutely outstanding as Eponine. Her voice rang clear from first note to last. Jeff Haslow (Marius) and Sarah Rose (Cosette) also provided excellent performances. Their voices blended wonderfully in their duets. There seemed to be a good chemistry among the three actors as they worked through their triangular relationships.
Donna de Kuyper (Fantine) has a marvelous voice and great stage presence. These are best demonstrated when she reappears in Valjean's room near the end of Act 2. In her (relatively) brief appearance in Act 1, it seemed to me that more effort had been put into the drama and pathos of her scenes than into their musical presentation.
The roles of M. and Mme. Thenardier are intended to be scene stealers and, as presented by Paul Janiga and Abby Toomey, they succeeded. Ms. Toomey managed, I think, to steal even some of Mr. Janiga's thunder. She is a powerful presence and has a strong voice. Both actors played the parts for their full sleazy comic effect.
For, I suppose, comic effect and, perhaps, audience familiarity, the Thenardiers, Gavroche (Dominic Anthony) and the spiteful women in the factory scene affected (to varying degrees) Cockney accents. I could understand this in a British production, where class and regional accents and speech patterns would help to delineate characters, but in an American production, in which most of the rest of the cast is accentless, this seems an ineffective and unnecessary distraction.
The singing of the ensemble is truly inspiring. The work of Musical Director Melanie Bradley and asst. Musical Director Liz Messick has created a chorus that sings strongly together and harmonizes beautifully. The closing number, "Can You Hear the People Sing", is breathtaking and had the audience on its feet before it was finished.
Despite the necessity of offering a stripped-down version, Possum Point's technical team has used its skills to present the essentials. Director Kenney Workman's set is compact and functional, while Ginger Angstadt's lighting design helps to lift some of the scene-setting burden, effectively completing the depiction of taverns, sewers, barricades, and red-light districts.
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