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BWW Reviews: Storm the Barricades to See Theatre Royale's Brilliant Production of LES MISERABLES

BWW Reviews: Storm the Barricades to See Theatre Royale's Brilliant Production of LES MISERABLES

Residents of the Inland Empire had the rare opportunity this past weekend to enjoy a Broadway-quality musical production; regional company Theatre Royale brought its new presentation of Les Miserables to Riverside's Fox Performing Arts Center (Fox PAC) as the next-to-last stop on its five-city Southern California tour.

LES MISERABLES is, of course, not an easy show to perform. Composer Claude-Michel Schönberg challenges especially the male singers with one difficult number after another, many of which have an operatic feel. The last note in "Bring Him Home" is so high - an A - that many tenors must use a falsetto to reach it.

Despite the challenges, the singers in the Theatre Royale production shine. David Reuther, as Jean Valjean, and Paul Kehler, as Javert, both prove their vocal and dramatic mettle; their respective tenor and baritone complement each other perfectly in the pivotal "Confrontation" number, which crackles with emotion. Their energetic performances perfectly convey their characters' intense mutual dislike.

LES MIZ has a split personality in that some of the characters sing only "serious" music, while the others sing only pop or rock-style songs. In addition to Valjean and Javert, Rick Schaffner (the bishop of Digne), Garrett Torres (Marius), Skyelar Nally (adult Cosette), Tanner Jacob Vidos (Enjolras), Jasmine Carlton (young Cosette), and the others who perform melodic numbers all demonstrate high vocal quality. Those in the pop-rock category, Caroline Nelms (Fantine), Francesca Sola (Eponine), and Jace Febo (Gavroche), similarly fulfill their roles powerfully and credibly. Leslie Paddock Vecchione (Madame Thenardier) "speak-sings" a la Rex Harrison in MY FAIR LADY; the technique works perfectly for her character.

BWW Reviews: Storm the Barricades to See Theatre Royale's Brilliant Production of LES MISERABLES
David Reuther as Jean Valjean at the Beginning of the Show

In addition to top-notch performances, Theatre Royale's production of LES MIZ features stunning visuals. Although director J. Scott King and scenic design company and artist Designs by King and Shalone McCarthy use projections, the show relies on them only as background, and not to create atmosphere. In several places, director King opens a scene with a mesh curtain in place and then lifts it, much as a film director and camera operator might begin with a blurred shot and then bring the action into focus. Most notably, in the sewer scene, Mr. King powerfully uses smoke to show the murky conditions, instead of the less effective projections that I have seen other professional LES MIZ productions use.

The clever sets are modular, designed to be moved in and out with ease. Simple mirror-image upstage platforms with staircases leading both down and downstage allow most of the action to occur in front, and still permit actors to stand on separate levels. The barricade really does look like a pile of junk, and the set for Valjean's house allows Cosette to stand on a balcony during "One Day More," bathed in light. One especially inventive use of the set construction occurs at the end of the battle; as the two sides of the barricade are wheeled off to stage left and stage right, the audience members' eyes are drawn to the center, where Gavroche and another victim of the carnage lie dead.

Other than in the first scenes, where Jean Valjean appears encrusted with filth, this version of LES MIZ is visually beautiful; the lighting is brilliant, both literally and figuratively. In several scenes, the performers appear on an empty stage, bathed in spotlight. During the "Confrontation" scene, Javert and Valjean appear on an otherwise darkened stage, with each in his own spotlight. The fact that the two spots never cross or merge visually demonstrates the unbreachable barrier between the two men. Also, during "One Day More," Cosette is the only figure brightly lit, to me symbolizing Cosette as a beacon. Additionally, the red lighting over the barricade, with touches of blue, create a calm, beautiful scene - a sad irony considering what is about to transpire. Kudos to Shane Pritchard, Matt Blair, and Tim Parfitt for their lighting work; I have never before seen a stage production of LES MIZ or any other show where the lighting helps tell the story or provides commentary.

BWW Reviews: Storm the Barricades to See Theatre Royale's Brilliant Production of LES MISERABLES
Jean Valjean Praying for Marius' Safe Return

Only in one area did the show fail to live up to its overall stellar quality. At the performance I attended, the sound was not properly balanced. I had trouble hearing the spoken dialogue from unseen characters, such as the Army's demand at the barricade for the revolutionaries to surrender.

Despite the high quality of the performances, I disagree with three performing choices. The first is the decision to use rudimentary dance steps. Although Les Miserables does not emphasize choreography to the extent of some other musicals, there are a few scenes where crowd members dance. In this production, Mr. King has the ensemble execute a few unison steps that are so basic that I believe it would have been preferable for the performers to stand in one place and use only arm motions. Instead, the shuffle and box steps emphasize the cast's apparent lack of dance skills far more than leaving out the dancing would have done.

A second decision with which I disagree is the one to have Thenardier perform "Master of the House" straight, instead of comedically. John George Campbell has a lovely voice - far superior to those that ordinarily play the role of Thenardier - but "Master of the House" is one of the few moments of comic relief in the entire show. In "Beggars at the Feast," Mr. Campbell uses comic gestures and dance steps to great effect, none of which are present during "Master of the House." Especially because Madame Thenardier performs her portion of the number comedically, the decision to exclude Thenardier's usual silly gestures and dance steps is especially puzzling.

BWW Reviews: Storm the Barricades to See Theatre Royale's Brilliant Production of LES MISERABLES
The evil Thenardiers (Leslie Paddock Vecchione and John George Campbell)

The final performing choice that I question is adding a drunk student to "Red and Black." Although the student's antics liven up what I usually consider to be an excrutiatingly boring song, the decision to include it seems to me the equivalent of telling jokes about a tragedy; I thought it in bad taste to generate laughs at the expense of a callow youth who would soon die in a senseless revolt.

Despite my disagreement with Mr. King's choices, I enthusiastically recommend that people catch Theatre Royale's Les Miserables at the last stop on its tour - on June 19th and 20th at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

For BWW's interview with David Reuther, click on the following link:/palm-springs/article/BWW-Interviews-David-Reuther-Jean-Valjean-in-Theatre-Royales-LES-MISERABLES-at-the-Fox-Performing-Arts-Center-20150521

The Fox Performing Arts Center has just announced its summer theatrical offerings, each appearing for one performance at 6 p.m.: BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, July 11th; GUYS AND DOLLS, July 18th; HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, July 25th; and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, August 1st.

The Fox PAC will open its new Broadway season on September 26, 2015, with the Survivor Tour of MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL. The rest of its 2015-16 Broadway offerings are MARILYN FOREVER BLONDE, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, THE PRODUCERS, FORBIDDEN BROADWAY, and JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. Season packages for the six shows range from $225 to $695 per person. Information is available at 951-335-3469, at FoxBroadway@LiveNation.com, and at www.riversidelive.com .

Photo Credit Patti Meyers (Production Shots)

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From This Author Audrey Liebross

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