BWW Reviews: CCMT's LES MISERABLES is Master of the House
Based on Victor Hugo's classic novel, the often-called "epic" musical "Les Miserables" sets a high standard, especially for theatre companies with smaller budgets. While that budget does affect Contra Costa Musical Theatre's production in minor ways, the company follows through on its promise to once again deliver visually stunning, challenging and new material (or newly available for rights, at least).
Noel Anthony excels in bringing out Jean Valjean's plight between dark and light after the hero leaves prison and faces the world's prejudices, fears and realities. In the fight for his soul and the souls around him, Valjean's struggle becomes very real and very profound. In contrast, Jerry Lee portrays Inspector Javert's gradual fall as he loses control, at first in frustration when Valjean escapes, then in confusion when Valjean offers him grace.
The exceptional leads carry their roles with passion and force. Delicate Jade Shojaee's Eponine has a childish crush on the older Marius (Robert Lopez), who falls in love with Cosette (Catherine Bartomeo). And Nicole Helfer and Alex Moore play the small but defining characters of Fantine and Enjolras. Unfortunately, some of the ensemble has trouble standing out in forgettable individual roles. But they still find power in numbers. Vocals soar in the musical's trademark songs, which include "One More Day" and "The People's Song."
Director Scott Denison adds some unique staging that fills in gaps which might normally bother the "noticer" in the audience. Young Eponine points at Young Cosette, giving Madame Thenardier reason to turn and see Cosette ignoring her orders. Other nice touches show up throughout the production. Marius gives a cold Eponine his jacket. The captured Javert prays silently while young students fight at the barricade. Choreographer Jennifer Perry gets some inspiration from "Beauty and the Beast" with her use of tavern cups in crowd favorite "Master of the House." And the Thenardiers (Derek Travis Collard and Dae Spering) play off each other like the Bonnie and Clyde of France, each in love with the other's scheming nature.
A few of the scenes do disappoint, however, including an awkward finale to the barricade drama. A fabulous orchestra is somewhat muted by the extended stage it sits under, and the costumes could use some work. The production value does rocket thanks to its flawless technical aspects: a well-microphoned cast and astounding projections of city windows and street maps (designed by Steve Channon). The scenic design by Kelly James Tighe includes various "brick" pieces and stairs, an aged proscenium and two black curtains used only when needed. Contra Costa's ability to produce such visual masterpieces plays a large role in its continual attraction of full houses.
Contra Costa recently opened additional seating to accommodate demand, so audiences can expect full houses for "Les Miz." Saturday night's performance saw most seats filled with an audience eager to applaud. There's no question in their mind who the master of this house is.