BWW Reviews: Impressive New Regional Production of LES MISERABLES Debuts in La Mirada
For the many who are even only slightly familiar with the much-beloved Tony Award-winning musical LES MISERABLES, that massive stage saga of love, heartache, injustice, and revolution in 19th Century France, a few select words spring to mind when it comes to describing the hit show... Epic. Grandiose. Emotionally-sweeping. Perhaps even schmaltzy and melodramatic.
The mere thought of the show's expected size and scope is almost built into its very existence. Heck, even its all-star film adaptation in 2012 was a big cinematic event.
So for any smaller theatrical company to even dare take on the bold task of mounting its own locally-grown production of this gargantuan global hit (based on Victor Hugo's novel of the same name) is itself already such an audacious undertaking---even before any barricades are erected and banners are unfurled.
Luckily for us here in Southern California, the first to take on this brave crusade locally is McCoy-Rigby Entertainment, that regional theater powerhouse that has consistently and successfully put on some magnificent, well-received, and---dare I say---Broadway-caliber productions at their home base at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.
In this theatrical company's very capable hands---particularly the pair attached to the production's Ovation Award-winning director Brian Kite---this locally-gestated Les Mis is confident, gutsy, and even quite rousing.
How great is this regional production? Well, it's such a valiant audience-pleaser that even the show's tiny technical flaws on Opening Night (a tinny-sounding orchestra, a few shaky high notes, some rhythmic issues, etc.) were simply drowned out by the constant roar of cheers and boisterous applause.
While, sure, the production is indeed a scaled-down version dictated by its venue and perhaps, yes, the regional company's lack of Broadway-backed financing, McCoy/Rigby's rather enjoyable Les Mis---which continues performances at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through June 22---is by no means a less-important, minuscule, low-grade reproduction. On the contrary, their ambitious presentation far exceeded my own already elevated expectations.
Sure, it feels less epic on the surface than even the compacted 25th Anniversary national tour that thundered through Southern California two years ago, but--to be fair---this new La Mirada production smartly utilizes its less-massive proportions---and closer proximity to the audience---as a means to offer an even more fulfilling communal theater experience. This allows the audience to be much more immersed in the drama, and to be closer than ever to the show's emotional gravitas, while still retaining an overall sense of theatrical heft. This "intimacy" (if that's even applicable here since the theater isn't exactly a tiny black box either) seems to heighten every anguished cry, every shout of defiance, every declaration of love, and even every blast of gunfire.
Much like McCoy/Rigby's jaw-droppingly-good production of another Claude-Michel Schönberg / Alain Boublil musical---MISS SAIGON---two seasons ago (which, coincidentally, was also directed by Kite), this LES MISERABLES is truly an impressive undertaking from its riveting start through to its triumphant finish.
Of course, the timing of this enterprise is even more eyebrow-raising considering that this West Coast stand-alone production rises just as an all-new, re-worked revival recently made its own lauded return to Broadway this season, earning multiple Tony nominations in the process. However, La Mirada's Les Mis, understandably, hews closer to the show's original, fan-obsessed content, yet still somehow feels revitalized by a fresh, thoughtfully-curated perspective.
But, honestly, what really makes this an excellent, stand-out production can mostly be attributed to its exceptional cast, fronted by its riveting, soul-baring lead, Broadway vet James Barbour, who convincingly plays the pained, on-the-lam reformed ex-con Jean Valjean. The superb actor holds everyone captive with his distinctive portrait of a man haunted by societal demons and an instinct for self-preservation. And blessed with a powerful, commanding presence and, wow, a singing voice that's also piercingly vulnerable (his take on "Bring Him Home" will likely elicit tears as it did for me), Barbour is definitely this production's MVP---its emotional center and guiding light.Other cast standouts include Randall Dodge as Valjean's nemesis Javert, Cassandra Murphy as the doomed Fantine, power-belter and American Idol alumnus Anthony Federov as charismatic student leader Enjolras, velvet-voiced Nathaniel Irvin as fellow student Marius (he does a beautiful job on "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" in act two), pint-sized scene-stealer Jude Mason as young street urchin Gavroche, Meeghan Hollaway as Madame Thénardier, and the hilarious Jeff Skowron as devious innkeeper Thénardier.
Ovation Award-winner Skowron---whose remarkable variety of dramatic and comedic work on So. Cal. stages lately have been consistently impressive---has done the near impossible... well, at least in my eyes: turning what I've always contended as a "filler" song in Les Mis, "Master of the House (The Innkeeper's Song)," into a vibrant, newly revitalized, rip-roaring showstopper. Assisted by stage wife Hollaway and the limber, enthusiastic ensemble company, the rousing early act one song was by far, hands down, the funniest, best-staged version of that number I have ever witnessed in any iteration of this musical. That thrilling number, alongside the show's other set pieces that feature most or all of the ensemble cast singing together in glorious harmony (such as the spirited act one closer "One Day More"), are every bit worth the price of a ticket.
For the most part, La Mirada's beautiful, entertaining production---which also boasts dynamic choreography by Dana Solimando, terrific set designs by Cliff Simon, and first-rate costumes by Colleen Grady---honors the original intensity of the musical as most of us remember it, thereby once again proving that you don't need to travel thousands of miles to catch a Broadway-caliber stage show.
Kite, Barbour, and this harmonious, hard-working company should be very proud of what they have achieved here in La Mirada.
Photos from the McCoy/Rigby Entertainment presentation of LES MISERABLES by Michael Lamont. From top: Valjean (James Barbour) makes a plea; the wicked Thénardiers (Meeghan Hollaway, Jeff Skowron) sing their schemes; Enjolras (Anthony Federov, in red vest) leads the revolt.
Performances of LES MISERABLES presented by McCoy-Rigby Entertainment at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in the city of La Mirada, CA continue through Sunday, June 22, 2014. The theater is located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard. Parking is Free.
For tickets, visit www.LaMiradaTheatre.com or call (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310.