BWW Reviews: Bayou City Theatrics' LES MISERABLES Is Promising But Unpolished
Walking into the Frenetic Theatre, Colton Berry's stark scenic design is the first thing that captures the attention. The vision for the production is clear. This LES MISERABLES completely strips away the spectacle to present the powerful story without any unnecessary trappings. Everything on the stage is drab and dark. Somewhat sheer panels in various shades of grimy gray line the back of the performance space and form wings as well. Each panel features red-lettered graffiti exclaiming liberté and égalité, which make up two-thirds of national motto of France. Filling the stage are large platforms constructed at varied heights on castors, each of which is painted in black with wisps of grays and natural wood shining through. As the bombastic overture begins to bombard the audience, the platforms start to move, and throughout the entirety of the three-hour performance they are reconfigured almost as often as often high school students during a marching band show. Some of the configurations allow for fascinating use of levels; however, the frequent movement is sometimes distracting.
Inside the world of musical theatre, I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who is not familiar with rattling opening chords of LES MISERABLES' overture. In this production, hearing them played by a MIDI synthesizer and piped through speaker stacks is the first disconnect of the evening. Musical Director Jane Volke has proven herself to be a very skilled accompanist with other Bayou City Theatrics productions, and I feel like just having her alone on a rehearsal piano would have been a vast improvement over the canned score that Bayou City Theatrics used to underscore their production. The problem with the electronic score is that it doesn't sound as tonally rich as real instrumentation, it doesn't allow for soloists to develop a deep and complex relationship with the music, and when singers start a number in the wrong key, it can't be altered to match their pitch. Also, without the conducting, tempos and timings got muddled in the performance, especially with a large ensemble.
Throughout the two acts there were some incredible moments of clever stagecraft and standout performances. The dynamically multileveled set allowed for interesting pictures to be made by the cast, especially the silhouette staging for the opening of "At the End of the Day" and their configuration for the reprise of "Do You Hear the People Sing" in the show's finale. Other moments that were staged particularly well were the "ABC Café" and "Do You Hear the People Sing." The vocals of the ensemble were engaging and enthralling on "Do You Hear the People Sing," which was possibly the most emotionally affective moment in the show. The female ensemble also made "Turning" a true vocal highlight of the evening. Likewise, I was also taken by Colton Berry's vibrant vocal performance as Enjolras, Erin Wasmund's lovely "On My Own," Mark Frazier's pitch perfect "Stars," and William Luyties' reflective "Bring Him Home." Stealing the show whenever she was on stage was Heather Hall's boisterous and brashly nasal performance as Madame Thénardier. Her Cockney accent and outlandish mannerisms were charmingly off-putting, making the character perfectly socially unacceptable. Other strong moments from the production include Mackensey Doyle's rendition of "Castle on a Cloud," which was staged and sung beautifully, the focused light design for Javert's "Soliloquy," and Kelly Waguespack's shimmering high register as Cosette.