BWW Reviews: Balagan's LES MISERABLES Has Laudable Moments But Lacked Some Power
I must be honest here; Balagan Theatre putting on a production of Les Mis already has two hurdles to overcome before I even set foot in the door. First that it's Les Mis. It's a monumental undertaking and one of my favorite shows and I'm incredibly picky about it. And two, it's Balagan and with their recent track record I expect great things. So before I even enter the theater I already have some impossibly high standards for the production. And while there were definitely some superb moments on that stage (many in fact) there were also some glaring drawbacks that kept the show from meeting or even exceeding those standards.
If you don't know what "Les Miserables" is about from either the Victor Hugo novel, the Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel and Herbert Kretzmer mega hit musical or the recent Oscar winning film adaptation of the musical well, where have you been? I won't go into too much detail but suffice to say it's 19th Century France and Jean Valjean (Louis Hobson) is finishing his 19 year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. But Javert (Michael Dunlap), the chief Inspector is not about to let him off that easy and lets him go but with the stigma of being a criminal. Valjean manages to take on another identity and hide but Javert is determined to hunt him down. Meanwhile Fantine (Tessa Archer) is trying to scrape together a living to support her and her daughter Cosette (played at different ages by Anna Imehana Lillnoe Ostrem and Shaya Hodgins). But Fantine loses her job and is forced into prostitution. Valjean finds her just before death and vows to take care of Cosette. Now several years later Javert is still after Valjean along with disreputable con men, young student Marius (Brian Giebler) has fallen in love with Cosette, oh and the poor are about to revolt against the government.
Like I said the show has much going for it. There's some incredibly innovative staging from director Jake Groshong keeping the pace going and flowing in such an intimate space with a wonderful set from Ahren Buhmann. And the ensemble chorus is absolutely stunning. The power coming from their collective voices (and in some instances some amazing solo bits) was glorious. But on the whole the show seemed to need just a little more rehearsal time as the cast took about half way through Act One to really settle in and there were a few major gaffs.But let's talk about the cast. Hobson and Dunlap both have powerful instruments at their disposal and both command the stage in their roles but I have to admit I was a little let down by some of the crescendo moments of their solos. Archer also has a beautiful voice which lent itself well to Fantine's big number but I would have liked to have seen more levels in her emotional moments of the song. Ostrem as the young Cosette couldn't be more perfect. She walks on stage and she's this adorable little angel and then she opens her mouth and one of the most touching renditions of "Castle on a Cloud" comes out. Hodgins as the older Cosette also manages some beautiful vocal moments and she's the perfect counterpart for the dashing Giebler whose voice would make anyone melt. And I must say that the absolute stand outs for the show (other than that magnificent ensemble) were Robert Scherzer and Rebecca M. Davis as the scheming Thenardiers and Danielle Barnum as their lovelorn daughter Eponine. Not only impressively sung but Scherzer and Davis managed to inhabit the characters with humor as well as the danger and malevolence they require. And their "Master of the House" number was an entire two act play unto itself and one of the finest versions I've seen. And Barnum took her part and gave it a kind of damaged hopefulness and managed a gorgeously heartbreaking rendition of "On My Own".
So is the show a dud? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. Could it have used another week (or two) for the cast and orchestra to settle in? Absolutely. And it's that lack of settling in that kept it from being the stunner that I was hoping for. But I guess that's what I get for having high expectations.