BWW Reviews: How Village's LES MISERABLES Made Me Remember Why I Love This Show
The year was 1996, it was the second time "Les Miserables" was coming through town and I was finally going to see it live. I sat there in the dark and let that incredible score and story flow through me and was such a weepy mess that my friends questioned if I was going to be alright. That experience cemented "Les Mis" as one of my favorites and although I've seen it several times since, no production has come close to that one. How could it, right? That is until now as the current production playing at Village Theatre stunned me by turning me into that weepy mess from 17 years ago all over again and reminded me just how good this show can be.
We all know the story. Based on Victor Hugo's novel, the Boublil and Schonberg musical follows the tragic life of Jean Valjean (Greg Stone), a good man imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. He has now been paroled by the single minded Javert (Eric Polani Jensen) but cannot seem to find any kindness in the world for an ex-con. But when his circumstances drive him to an actual act of thievery, he is shown incredible kindness keeping him out of jail and turning his life around. He abandons his name and parole and begins life anew as someone without his horrible past. Years later he is now the Mayor of a town and factory owner and his actions cause a young woman, Fantine (Beth DeVries), to be tossed out onto the street and driven to a life of prostitution. When Valjean finds her near death and discovers what he's done he vows to take care of her daughter Cosette (played at different ages by Victoria Ames Smith and Alexandra Zorn). Meanwhile Javert has discovered the hidden Valjean and vows to capture him. Fast forward again several years and the now grown Cosette falls for the young idealist student Marius (Matthew Kacergis) but their budding romance is interrupted by the pending student revolution of 19th century France. Love, betrayal, secrets, thieves, and war all on a big revolving stage (yes, they have the revolve here); what more can you ask for?
How about a killer cast? Got one. Director Steve Tomkins and Music Director R.J. Tancioco have assembled the dream cast for the show making this an unstoppable force. Furthermore Tomkins has the iconic revolve for the stage and uses it brilliantly to keep the pace going (and of course for the barricade). And I must mention the incredible work from Tancioco as he and his beautiful sounding orchestra manage to allow for a few slight pauses or phrasing differences from what is written in the music giving the actors the opportunity to not only perform but act.But that cast. This is possibly one of the finest ensembles assembled. From Stone on down to villager #3 the cast weaves a tight and heartfelt story. But it's Stone that leads the group and lead he does. With a crisp, clear and powerful voice he takes the role to a very real and honest place making his trials only that much more affecting. From the moment he steps on stage you're on his side and his conviction and focus never wavers. Jensen is equally powerful as the stalwart Javert as he takes his convictions to the point of blind devotion making his eventual outcome a stunner. Fantine may not be in the show all that much but DeVries makes the most of it and her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is heartbreaking. Kacergis and Zorn take the lovers beyond the Disney Prince and Princess that they can be phoned in as and give them heart and humor and real chemistry. And Kacergis adds in some stunningly beautiful and conflicted moments post-revolution. Speaking of the revolution, Steve Czarnecki as the student leader Enjolras takes command of the stage with his confidence, authority and powerhouse voice and couldn't be better. And what would the show be without the comic relief of the Thenardier's but Nick DeSantis and Kate Jaeger don't go for the usual clowns of the show but instead keep them grounded and as a result quite dangerous. And Kirsten Delohr Helland as their daughter Eponine manages a kind of streetwise edge to her character, which feeds in perfectly to her perpetual best friend and unrequited love for Marius. And her performance of one of my favorite songs ever, "On My Own", is lovely and touching.