BWW Reviews: LES MISERABLES at Hale Centre Theatre West Valley Is Unique and Soulful
The new production of Les Miserables at Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley is a feast for the eyes, ears, and soul.
Les Miserables (a musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, with lyrics also by Jean-Marc Natel and Herbert Kretzmer) is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. It is the epic story of Jean Valjean, who spends his life running from the law because he stole a loaf of bread to save his family, and those he comes in contact with, including the students involved in the Paris Uprising of 1832. It is a powerful, classic tale of love, strength, and redemption told through beautiful music that is now iconic in its own right.
Casey Elliott as Jean Valjean (double cast with Kyle Olsen) and Adam Dietlein as Inspector Javert (double cast with Preston Yates) are both impeccable in their roles. Powerhouse voices, vulnerable performances, and clear characterizations (including the well-executed aging of their characters) make their portrayals of the leading men very impressive.
Also providing masterful performances are the actors playing the Thenardier family: Josh Richardson as Monsieur Thenardier (double cast with Stephen Kerr), Emily Bell as Madame Thenardier (double cast with Camille Van Wagoner), and Madeline Weinberger as daughter Eponine (double cast with Anna Daines Rennaker).
In addition, it is enjoyable to watch the extraordinary child actors Alyssa Buckner as Young Cosette (double cast with Elise Anderson) and Cairo McGee as Gavroche (double cast with Wally Inkley).
Other great members of the cast include Rachel Woodward as Cosette (double cast with Jessica Sundwall), Brad Robins as Marius (double cast with Tim Cooper), Derek Smith as Enjolras (double cast with Bradley Lever), and Erin Royall Carlson as Fantine (double cast with Megan Heaps).
Rather than using a presentational, operatic style, director David Tinney has guided his performers to approach their characters and situations with naturalistic emotional honesty. This wonderfully allows the musical to feel grounded in reality while still maintaining aesthetically pleasing vocals (thanks to music director Kelly DeHaan).
This production is undoubtedly a post-film interpretation of Les Miserables (the Oscar-winning movie was released in 2012). This is a good thing, as it has brought to the forefront some of the emotional immediacy and grittiness that made the film so successful. The director and production team have found a pleasing mixture of elements from the movie and the new revival, along with original ideas. It is refreshing that the visualization isn't a carbon copy of the iconic but now stale original staging, which would have been easy to do with the theatre's revolving stage. However, it is regrettable that some of the moments that worked so well on the original production's turntable are not replicated here (for example, "A Heart Full of Love," as well as the revolving barricade, which here is static and awkwardly placed).
The set, by resident designer Kacey Udy, is a serviceable concoction of stone, wood, and metal grates that provides intermittent thrilling moments (especially when paired with fantastic lighting effects designed by Brian Healy). However, it falls short of the absolute marvel that was his design for the similar historical epic A TALE OF TWO CITIES.
The star of the production team is hair and makeup designer Trisha Ison, who has done brilliant work creating the looks of both the miserable lower class and those more well-to-do, in addition to impressive aging for Valjean and Javert. Her work nicely complements the well-designed costumes by Peggy Willis and Suzanne Carling.
The production includes some breathtaking stage pictures. However, it is unfortunate that in a number of scenes throughout the musical (especially big solo numbers such as "Bring Him Home" and "On My Own," both sung spectacularly) the performers' faces are obscured from a large portion of the audience because there isn't enough movement. Theatre in the round requires actors to sing toward different sections of the audience so everyone feels they have a good seat, and that does not happen often enough in this production. In addition, the ensemble's numbers could have packed much more punch aurally and, especially, visually if it had been expanded more. A record number of people auditioned for this production, and it is too bad more actors were not cast to give the show the epic feeling it demands.
But forget that it isn't perfect. It is the most unique (and among the best) of the productions of this show ever in Utah, and it offers enough beauty in every sense of the word for it to be well worth the time and ticket prices. It is implausible that a better Les Miserables will be presented here any time soon.
Photo Credit: L-R Casey Elliott (Jean Valjean) and Adam Dietlein (Inspector Javert)