BWW Reviews: LES MISERABLES Storms the Barricades at the Omaha Community Playhouse
On September 20th, the Omaha Community Playhouse opened their 2013-2014 season with Boublil and Schonberg's beloved musical, Les Miserables. After just the first week of sold out performances, audience members are already calling this production "the best Playhouse production in years." Led by Broadway veteran, Timothy Shew, and under the direction of Susie Baer Collins and Carl Beck, as well as the musical direction of Jim Boggess, this cast of Omaha actors brings to life the story millions of people around the world have come to know and love over the past 25 years.
As the escaped convict, Jean Valjean, Timothy Shew engages the audience from the very start and takes them with him on the journey of a man looking to make good on his promise to live a life worthy of the second chance he has been given. His stage presence is undeniable, and his vocals soar on stand out numbers such as "Bring Him Home" and "Who Am I?" Even after having performed in Les Miserables over 1,600 times throughout the years, Shew still seems to find ways to make new discoveries with each performance in the role of Valjean. To all aspiring actors, it's encouraging to see a professional actor who is not afraid to take chances with something he has done thousands of times before and continue to grow with his character.
Omaha actor Joe Dignoti, as Inspector Javert, is a fantastic talent to play opposite the Valjean created by Timothy Shew, and is spot on as he portrays a man of the law, on the hunt for Valjean. His rich baritone fills the auditorium and leaves the audience breathless on his best numbers, "Stars" and "Javert's Suicide." Even though many consider Javert to be the antagonist of sorts in this story, Dignoti's approach to the role makes the audience feel for this man, and sad to see his end.
Julie Crowell, who flawlessly portrays Fantine, the single mother who would give anything for her young daughter, provides one of the most memorable moments in the show. Her performance of the well-known "I Dreamed A Dream" doesn't leave a dry eye in the house. You feel the heartache of this woman who loses everything, and in "Come To Me" you see the hope in her eyes when she finds a kind man to raise her daughter.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention more of this fantastic cast who stood out in the show. The incredible trio of Joe O'Connor, Abigail Stewart, and Jennifer Tritz, who take on the roles of Marius, Eponine, and Cosette, are perfection in their roles. Their voices blend beautifully on "A Heart Full of Love," and their onstage connections pull the audience into their story in a way that is both hopeful and heartbreaking. As Enjolras, Tyler Buglewicz's voice is both powerful and sincere, making him an excellent choice for the leader of the rebellion, as well as an absolute pleasure to listen to. As the Thenardiers, Cork Raimer and Megan McGuire are absolutely delightful. "Master of the House" is yet another one of the highlights from this wonderful production.
Perhaps the biggest stars in this show are the incredible ensemble members. The voices that could be heard for only a line or two were just as beautiful and memorable as those cast members with full songs to themselves. It's a true testament to the talent in Omaha to see so many characters on that stage that were created from scratch, and are delivered in a way that is real and relatable to the audience. The numbers with the full cast are exciting and the harmonies and build of the songs leave the audience humming their melodies long after they leave the theatre. While bringing in professional outside talent could have the potential to leave the rest of the cast in the dust, the local members of this cast rise to the occasion and deliver performances worthy of nothing less than a Broadway stage.
With two weeks of performances under their belts and glowing reviews continually pouring in, I wouldn't be surprised to see the rest of the run sell out. If you only get to see one Omaha Community Playhouse production this year, or if you've never been to see a show there, go see Les Miserables. You won't be disappointed.