BWW Reviews: LES MISERABLES a Jaw-Dropping, Thrilling Production
Greenville Little Theatre's local staging of "Les Miserables" has been one of the most eagerly anticipated Upstate (S.C.) musical events of the past two years.
What a joy to report that this "Les Miz," which opened Friday, is jaw-droppingly terrific, a thrilling production of polished professionalism from beginning to end.
Under the vigorous direction of Allen McCalla, this modern musical classic is deftly acted and rapturously sung.
McCalla's intensely focused staging keeps the proceedings brisk and kinetic, giving composer Claude-Michel Schonberg's showstoppers plenty of oomph and fire. But McCalla also allows the familiar introspective ballads to speak for themselves.
The season-closing production is a triumphant capstone to Allen and Suzanne McCalla's 20-year leadership of the Little Theatre. (Sadly, Allen McCalla was sidelined on opening night, kept at home by a back strain. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery.)
Matias Mariani leads the 36-member cast as Jean Valjean, the noble-hearted ex-con pursued by the fanatical police inspector Javert (Will Ragland). The 1987 musical, with English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, is based on Victor Hugo's sprawling 1862 novel of redemption and social justice.
Mariani clearly possesses the chops for this monumental role, one of the most challenging in musical theater. Mariani, an impassioned Valjean, soars mightily on the big vocal numbers such as "Who Am I?" but also delivers an ethereal "Bring Him Home" - one of several transcendent moments in this production. (Among the others: the Act I finale and the death of Eponine.)
Ragland's snearing, stiff-spined Javert is suavely chilling, a symbol of inflexible righteousness. The way Ragland achieves maximum effect with minimal gesture is a study in great acting.
Of the many fine cast members, Audrey Layne Crocker deserves special mention for her heartbreaking Eponine, the young woman who falls for the student Marius. Crocker's "On My Own" is beautifully rendered.
Samuel Floyd, the production's only guest actor, brings fervor, sensitivity and a warm tenor timbre to his Broadway-quality Marius.
Chelsea Rudisill sings Cosette with a sparkling soprano and engaging stage presence. Meg Foster is a sympathetic Fantine, conveying "I Dreamed a Dream" with sweet sincerity.
Peter Simms embraces the role of the shameless lowlife Thenardier with tremendous zest and nimble comic appeal.
Taylor Randall, as Madame Thenardier, is a gusting force of nature. Randall makes you wish Madame Thenardier had considerably more stage time.
Craig Smith is a solid, earnest Enjolras, the student revolutionary leader. Little Theatre veteran Jerry Witty brings a resonant baritone to the role of the Bishop.
On opening night, Rennah St. Clair was a charming Young Cosette. Myles Moore won cheers for his impish urchin Gavroche. (The two young actors alternate in the roles with, respectively, Camila Escobar and Derek Slade Tucker.)
The ensemble, in the big chorus numbers, produces a robust, magnificent sound on the Little Theatre's expansive stage.
Tim St. Clair II is responsible for the cast's impeccable diction and outstanding musicality. The recorded accompaniment, featuring a full orchestra, is quite good.
Suzanne McCalla created an enormous number of costumes for this production, and each one seems perfectly suited for the scene. Kimberlee Ferreira provided the inventive choreography.
The towering sets, by Dennis C. Maulden, rank among the best in theater's past two decades.
Jeff LaPrad leads the top-notch technical team. The stark lighting design by Stephen Terry and Cory Granner is wonderfully evocative.
Theater-goers should note: "Les Miserables" contains some strong language.
Greenville Little Theatre always offers theater-goers a rich experience. But this musically opulent "Les Miserables" takes that usual experience to the next level - and beyond. For tickets, call 864-233-6238.
Paul Hyde is the Arts Writer for the Greenville (S.C.) News and Southeast Editor of Classical Voice North America. Follow Paul on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.