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BWW Reviews: Hilliard Arts Council's Ambitious LES MISERABLES Brings Broadway-Caliber Talent to Hilliard

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The Hilliard Arts Council (HAC) jumped at the chance to be the first community theater group in Central Ohio to present the fully staged, professional version of "Les Miserables", opening at Hilliard Darby High School on Friday, July 12th for an astoundingly short 3 performance run. While several area high schools have attemptEd Smaller scale versions, particularly following the movie release which opened the story of "Les Miserable" to an even larger audience, to attempt to pull this show off takes guts. It's an incredibly ambitious production in its set, orchestral music, and vocal demands, and even the likes of Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman have taken criticism for their performances being less than its expected Broadway icon caliber. Given that, it turns out that Jackman and Crowe could have taken a few notes from the folks over in good ol' Hilliard, Ohio, as the pipes on this cast are surprisingly wonderful.

If you somehow have been living under a rock and your high school English teacher didn't make you drudge through the voluminous Victor Hugo novel, you're in luck, as the program for this production contains the entire synopsis in Cliff's Notes style detail. Unfortunately absent from said program are the cast bios. Sad, because local folks- you're going to want to keep tabs on these madly talented performers.

The entire ensemble is glorious when doing company numbers, and has a great blend of voices at all ranges. The Act I Finale actually gave me chills, as the vocals were spot on. HAC Newcomer, Tim Julian (a retired Minister of Music from Meadow Park Church of God) takes on the role of Jean Valjean. Julian is a bit stiff on stage at times, but his rendition of "Bring Him Home" is gorgeous, and his subtlety plays nicely there. Doug O'Neal (vocal director at Olentangy Liberty High School) brings one of the best Javert's I've seen to date, especially for a community theater production. Though I (gasp) caught his Javert actually smiling more than once, which detracted from the no-holds-barred nature of the character, O'Neal's overall energy and tremendous stage presence carries much of the show- his "Stars" is vocally breathtaking, and every bit as good as a Broadway version. Alexa Rybinski (a Capital University Music Graduate) who has appeared on many local stages, gives one of her best vocal performances as Cosette, with stop-you-in-your-tracks high notes, and in a role that I generally find superficial and annoying, she was able to make the part actually likable. Erin Reissig, a HAC regular was lovely as Eponine as well, particularly on show favorite, "On My Own". However, while I also usually love "A Little Fall of Rain", I was completely perlexed by Reissig's choice to be moving constantly during this song, making Eponine look as if she was ready to climb the barricade again and then suddenly expiring. Perhaps this is a personal peeve, as I actually had the same issue with Fantine's death scene- she was sitting up in bed looking cheerfully well, and then slumped back dead unexpectedly. I could probably forgive the flaw of not mastering the art of dying well on stage with the exception that tiny Gavroche capably delivers a worthy death scene (if you excuse the fact that about 15 men confusingly stand a few feet away while the boy is shot slowly about 5 times-geesh!).

Speaking on the "Little People" of the cast, previous Hilliard Idol Contest winner, Sophie Lewis more than holds her own at the ripe old age of 12 as Young Cosette, with a sweetly crystal clear and rock-solid version of "Castle On A Cloud", and while she doesn't sing, Carly Sells is darling as a Young Eponine. The pint-sized cast members all stole the stage each time they stepped on it, but none more so than 10 year old HAC newcomer, Tanner Sells as spunky, street urchin Gavroche. Sells works the stage like a seasoned pro and chirps out his lyrics with the perfect mix of bravado and heart. The comic relief in an otherwise, largely somber and melancholy script is provided my innkeepers Mr. and Mrs. Thenardier, in this case, played quite humorously by Kurt Zielenbach and Jodi Leis, respectively. Both embrace their characters quite nicely, and their flamboyance is particularly appreciated in the amusing, "Master of the House". Other notable performances include Dan Stevens- an Eddie Redmayne look alike- as Marius, who sings nicely, but whose character never really commits strongly to any emotion on stage, so that you never quite believe his true-love-at-first-sight devotion to Cosette, nor his commitment to his revolutionary brothers, and Carina Parker as Fantine, who is beautiful and nicely voiced, but also fails to dig deep enough to give Fantine the emotional tenor that makes her character compelling in the short arc of her story.

Costumes by Cynthia Jacober and Liz Meyers are beautiful and representative of the traditionally worn garb of each character, without being carbon-copies of their iconic versions. The set design by Ed Daniel is impressively versatile and lovely. Lighting Design by Diana Evans Vance has glorious moments like the visually stunning opening scene in the bowels of the prison ship, but also had moments where key characters were left in The Shadows for effect, but were so darkened that they could not be seen much at all. Sound (Design by Robert Vance) struggled at the final dress rehearsal, with individual mics cutting out frequently, and that was one area that I felt could definitely further enhance the production, as the entire orchestra, the gunfire, and often individual mics were actually too quiet often. 'Les Miserable" is a loud show, and while I appreciate leaving with my eardrums intact, it also takes away from the energy when the revolution is going on at a whisper. Director Robin Brenneman, along with Musical Director Ken Brenneman, should be commended for not only having the confidence to take on such an ambitious production, but for finding a truly exceptional cast, and pulling off an amazingly polished community theater show. Get your tickets quickly, as this production will undoubtedly be a sell-out this weekend.

Catch The Hilliard Arts Council's stellar production of "Les Miserables" this weekend only- Friday, July 12th and Saturday, July 13th at 8pm, and Sunday, July 14th at 3pm at Hilliard Darby High School, 4300 Leppert Rd., Hilliard, OH 43026. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and students, and can be purchased on line by going to www.hilliardartscouncil.org. Seating is general admission.

PHOTO CREDIT: Lorrie Cecil, This Week News


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From This Author Lisa Norris

Lisa grew up participating in community theater groups such as Cincinnati Young People's Theater (CYPT) in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, both in front of and behind (read more...)