BWW Reviews: Riverside Center Offers a Triumphant LES MISERABLES
LES MISERABLES is having a very good couple of years. Of course, it never had a bad year, since it premiered in London in the mid-1980s. It's among a theatrical phenomenon, which you already knew.
You are also no doubt aware of the recent national tour, multiple-Oscar nominated film adaptation which continues to fan the flames of the revolutionary musical that is not about 'that' French Revolution. It's really the story of a man who finds himself after a rough beginning and struggles against incredible odds to keep a promise and be a good father and citizen. (And there is some failed student uprising thrown in for good measure.)
Now, we come to the day I never thought would happen. Today, I type a sentence that includes "Les Miz" and "dinner theatre" in the same sentence.
Just 20 miles south of Quantico, off of Interstate 95, sits the Riverside Center Dinner Theatre. For sixteen years, Riverside has entertained audiences with a mix of popular musicals with a lean towards the tried and true classics, such as Hello, Dolly! (starring Sally Struthers), The Music Man and multiple productions of The Sound of Music. Enter Patrick A'Hearn. A veteran of Broadway, national tours and the concert hall as an actor and singer, A'Hearn came to Riverside to star in The Music Man several years ago. He stuck around and got a job assisting Riverside's founder, Rollin E. Wehman. And things started to change at Riverside. Musicals still filled the stage, but titles like Ain't Misbehavin' and The Full Monty started to bring in customers. Audiences have responded favorably and Riverside continues to offer an affordable dinner and great entertainment in a great facility.
Which brings us to Les Miserables.
Patrick A'Hearn was in the original Broadway cast of "Les Miz" when it opened on Broadway in 1987. A'Hearn was there on the ground floor of the New York run, as directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird, covering various roles for several years. As A'Hearn solidified his reputation at Riverside - first as associate artistic director and now as artistic director - he maintained the dream of bringing Les Miserables to Riverside in a new production.
Indeed, he has.
LES MISERABLES at Riverside is a fine achievement. Period.
A'Hearn has not merely re-staged the production based on the original. Along with his team of designers and musical personnel, he has produced a heartfelt, finely tuned version of this world-wide hit show that could stand up against any production I have seen - this being my seventh "Les Miz."
The performers, lead by David Michael Felty as Jean Valjean and Thomas Adrian Simpson as Javert, bring fine voices and superb acting to the piece. Felty, a robust, fatherly Valjean, hits the high notes and mines the pathos from every note and lyric. As his obsessed arch-nemesis, the police inspector Javert, Simpson's intensity as an actor is complimented by his biting baritone voice. In a sea of highlights, Felty's "Bring Him Home" was stunning, and Simpson's rendition of "Stars" and later Javert's memorable suicide were pinnacles of the production.
Erin Miele Huss was a heartbreaking Fantine, the doomed single mother who ends up selling her body to make money. As often as I have heard "I Dreamed a Dream," Huss sang it with fresh take. As her grown daughter, the equally tragic Eponine, Caitlin Shea also brought new life to "On My Own" and her scenes with Marius.
David M. Pope, as Marius, and Kate Merryman, as the adult Cosette, had wonderful chemistry as the str-crossed lovers. Pope and Merryman's voices blended beautifully in their musical moments.
The entire ensemble A'Hearn assembled for "Les Miz" was one of the finest I have experienced at Riverside. For every fine solo voice, there were equally stunning sections of ensemble singing throughout the production. (My voice teacher wife, who was my date for the night, put her seal of approval on the singing, as well, and she's a tough music critic.) Jason J. Michael handled the musical direction duties and Riverside needs to keep him around for the future.