BWW Reviews: New Jersey College Gets a Double LES MISERABLES Treat for Their Production
Since the MTI release f the student productions of Les Miserables in 2003, hundreds of high schools across the country have mounted the "world's most popular" musical. In 2012 MTI also released the professional and amateur rights to the show. Long time Cumberland County College (CCC) director Deborah Bradshaw who has directed over 25 CCC productions wasted no time in securing those rights. Deborah has the unique advantage of being part of the Broadway productions of Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera. She now has the thrill and privilege to produce the show some 24 years later. Deborah invited her long time friend and Les Miserables star Craig Schulman (Valjean) to facilitate a master class for her theater students to glean as much from the characters as possible.
This lush production has been enhanced by an 18 piece orchestra, a thirty-foot rotating stage and the same script and musical score that have been performed on Broadway for the past 26 years.
I had the joy of joining Ms. Bradshaw in rehearsal mode and asked her some questions about her experience with the show then and her fresh new production that is about to unfold.
Pati Buehler: What company did you perform with and who were the main lead characters?
Deborah Bradshaw: Original Cast Member First National Touring Company 1987-1989
JVJ- Bill Solo & Craig Schulman
Javert - Herdon Lackey
Fantine - Diane Fratantoni
Cosette - Tamara Jenkins
Marius - Hugh Panaro
Thénardier - Tom Robbins
Madame Thénardier - Victoria Clark
Broadway Cast Member 1989-1990
PB: What changes if any have taken place since you were part of the Broadway Company?
DB: There have been many cuts to the score to shorten the running time of 3:20 as well as reinventing the story without a turntable. However, I was determined to share with my students and our audience the original, turntable staging concept. With the support of our administration and our technical director, Chris Totora, he built our turntable over the summer.
PB: Tell us about your Les Miserables. What is the process of securing the rights? How have you pulled together your production... cast? direction? sets?
DB: The professional and amateur rights for the full score became available through MTI in November 2012 and we secured those rights immediately. The school edition only allows actors under the age of 18 to perform.
We only rehearse three days a week so with a show like Les Miz we needed to get an early start. I began casting in April and rehearsals began late August. On a side note: A couple of weeks into rehearsal, my husband received the gift of life with a kidney transplant. The cast and crew were very supportive and we all grew stronger as a company as I ran from hospital to rehearsal...elated and bleary eyed!
We had the entire show on its feet by early October and were ready for the next challenge in staging Les Miz. We put the cast through a "turntable class" to get them acclimated to stepping on and stepping off a revolving stage. We then incorporated over 30 turntable cues into the staging. Interestingly, there is one restriction for use of the turntable. As seen in the Broadways production, MTI restricts using the turntable to revolve the barricade during the battle scenes. This presented us with a challenge for staging the death of Gavroche. Our TD, Chris Totora devised a breakaway mid-section of the barricade that we revolve at the end of the scene to reveal to the audience the death of Gavroche and Enjolras on the opposite side of the barricade.
PB: What is the overall experience of doing this from a director's point of view?
DB: I have loved the many challenges of directing and producing this show. I wanted to take my students on a journey of discovery for themselves and their characters to embrace Les Miserables in the same manner and experiences I enjoyed as a cast member. I brought my dear friend and NY Agent, Teresa Wolf, to the college to provide a workshop for my students and cast. On another occasion, my friend and Broadway Star, Craig Schulman (JeanValjean on Broadway for over a decade) provided a Master class for the cast and a concert for the community. This was a huge success and a wealth of perspective for all of us.
I'm proud of the work we have done and I developed a renewed respect for the collaborative process, from the production team to my creative team and the expert musical direction of Roz Metcalf. Many times while directing a scene, I could see Broadway Director John Caird calmly explaining a scene or flashbacks and the memories of former cast mates, as my students and I had the chance to re tell this story ...again.
On to the show! .... Like many, I have seen several versions of Les Miserables; from Broadway to National Touring productions, from high school to regional professional mountings such as the Walnut Street Theater and Surflight Theater's offerings. Having never seen a primarily college-aged Les Miserables staging I was unsure as to what to expect.
Bradshaw and her co-creators pulled in all the elements of a nothing short of a quality Broadway caliber Le Miz. First, the size of the cast. Most school productions employ as many young people that have the talent and desire to be part of their school's musical. Cumberland County College's Le Miz rounds up 46 students including a few "older" cast members to fill their huge stage with some of the most thrilling group numbers one can experience. "Master of the House", "Do You Hear The People Sing" and "One Day More" truly raises the roof and has a heart pounding effect on this appreciative sold out crowd.
Adding to the lush sound she enlists members of the Bay Area Symphony including a string and horn section that brings new life to Schonberg and Boublil's score. Deborah has a loyal creative team that she has worked with for years and both Rosalind Metcalf (Musical Director) and Crissy Amico-Borowski (Choreographer) were on a plane from Florida to add their talents to the show and it definitely made this production soar.
There is nothing held back in the staging department as this director not only opted for a revolving stage but also a respectable looking three piece barricade that allows the audience to view the fight scene and death scenes from an impressive prospective.
Now on to the talent. There is not a weak member in this young principal cast. From the talented Cyrus Samsom (Jean Valjean) who's appeared on TV's Grey's Anatomy and General Hospital to his arch rival (Javert) played by the very tall, robust Don Andrew, who's "Stars" is one among the best sung I've heard on any professional stage. Steven Calakos (Maruis) has numerous local stage credits as well as TV/Film credits such as NBC's Grease special, Transformers 2, The Bounty Hunter and Revenge of the Fallen. South Jersey native and Perry Award winner AJ Mendini plays Enjolras with great enthusiasm leading his young Revolutionary students.
The leading ladies have an equal share of talent. Nicole Corigliano delivers a heart wrenching "I Dreamed a Dream" as she plays the vulnerable Fantine as well as any I've seen. Alicia Mackall' is spot on as the street smart Eponine and makes "On My Own" her own, beautifully. Making her debut in this production, Rachel Burghen is vocally outstanding as Cosette. Too often the docile daughter of Valjean sings her solos thinly and shrilly. Not so with Burghen. Her full throttled "In My Life" and "A Heart Full of Love" are sweetly yet powerfully sung with an enviable clarity.
Rounding out the cast are the robust Thenardiers ;Kevin Kolva and Anne Buckwheat as Mdme. Both are played as grisly scondrels with a devilish bit of humor that never milks the laughs but cleverly earns them. The entire ensemble is tuned in and on board with every emotion and never misses their mark in this most enthusiastic cast, evidence of Bradshaw's keen sense of detail to her direction and experience as an original cast member.
Les Miserables played to a sold out crowd on Nov. 21,22,23,24 at the Frank Guaracini, Jr. Fine Performing Arts Center at Cumberland Count College, Vineland, NJ . For more information about future events visit www.cccnj.edu/fpac or call 856.692.8499
Photo Credit: Photos # 1 & 2 Deborah Bradshaw Photo # 3 Ryan Buckwheat