BWW Reviews: The Playhouse's LES MISERABLES Is A Dark, Personal Must-See
It's strange to think that Les Miserables, the worldwide musical sensation by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alan Boublil, is just now being licensed to regional theaters. Demand for Les Miserables has grown within the regional theatre world in the 27 years since the show premiered, and that demand is definitely why The Playhouse in San Antonio and Zach Theatre in nearby Austin feel they can both present the show at the same time. So if you're in Central Texas, which production do you see? My answer: see both if you can, but if that's not an option, then I have the following suggestion. If you want to see a grand, epic, romantically designed production with a few strong performances, catch the version in Austin, but if you prefer a more modestly designed production that creates a darker, more emotional world in which every performance is spectacular, go to The Playhouse in San Antonio.
The unmitigated success of the production starts with the powerful direction by Tim Hedgepeth. While other directors would sit idly by and let the incredible story and iconic music do all the work, Hedgepeth's thoughtful staging enhances the show by playing up the cruel, harsh, and unkind world of 1800s France. The set, by Alfy Valdez is all black and bleak, Terry Price's lighting is dim, murky, and almost completely void of color, and the costumes by Yvette Oakes-Crabtree are all in beiges and browns.
Such a gloomy, dreary world really enriches the drama of the show and allows the performances to command attention. Jason Mosher is perfectly cast as Jean Valjean. He is strong, resilient, and possesses a powerful, booming voice. With intense vocal demands and a character arc that spans from hardened, angry criminal to almost saintlike, Valjean is one of the most challenging musical theater roles for any actor, and Mosher is able to handle the demands with ease. Jesse Enderle is equally as brilliant as Javert. Enderle's classically trained voice is put to fantastic use here, and his acting is appropriately stoic, stern and severe. When paired together, the two incredible performers are formidable opponents. While they share the stage for a measly total of fifteen minutes over the course of the show, the tension and opposition between the two is always apparent.
The flawless performances continue with the supporting players. Marry Marrow plays Fantine a bit feistier and hardened than some other depictions of the character. She's more of a fighter who over time loses her will to fight, and the choice, though unconventional, makes her fate all the more tragic. Conversely, Carlye Elyse Gossen plays Eponine as an eternal optimist. Her rendition of "On My Own" interjects the show with a rare moment of hope, which once again adds to the ultimate tragedy of her character. Constanza Aileen and Trevor Chauvin play Cosette and Marius as almost Romeo and Juliet like. Chauvin's performance is particularly fun to watch as he plays Marius as youthful, spirited lad slowly maturing into adulthood. As Marius's pal Enjolras, Chris Berry displays a thunderous, goosebump-inducing voice and a commanding stage presence, and Isidro Medina and Jane Haas are wonderfully funny as the Thenardiers.
Though Les Miserables is by and large one of the most demanding and difficult musicals of all time, The Playhouse's glorious production manages to handle those demands with ease. With its impeccable cast, magnificent direction, and bleak, threatening design, this is a Les Miserables that San Antonio will be talking about for years to come.
Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes including one 15 minute intermission.
LES MISERABLES plays the Russell Hill Rogers Theater at The Playhouse - San Antonio, located at 800 West Ashby, San Antonio, 78212 now thru November 3rd. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $10-$25. For tickets and information, visit www.theplayhousesa.org.
Photo by Siggi Ragnar.