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BWW Review: LES MISERABLES at Wainuiomata Little Theatre


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BWW Review: LES MISERABLES at Wainuiomata Little Theatre

BWW Review: Les Miserables

At Wainuiomata Little Theatre, Wainuiomata 23 June - 10 July 2021

Director and Musical Director: Chris Cox

Theatre Company: Wainuiomata Little Theatre

Reviewed by Lindsey Rusling

Boubil and Schoenberg's musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo is a beast. Dramatic, passionate and a firm favourite with many Musical Theatre lovers for its emotional music, historical setting and tragic but redemptive storyline.

Wainuiomata is a suburb of Wellington in New Zealand with a small but tight-knit group of enthusiastic people who have spent the last few years bringing big name musicals to their local community. It is truly heart-warming to see the locals involved in every aspect of the performance; on stage, building set and selling concessions and throwing support behind the company. There are many theatre groups who are mainly concerned with creating a more professional level for their shows and it is refreshing to see a community theatre that is taking pride in giving everyone a chance to be involved and a local community who are loving every minute of it.

This time however, Les Miserables has not been without its difficulties - losing its Director due to illness (we hope Barry Paterson was able to get along and see his production), unable to open when planned due to a change in COVID Alert Levels and a variety of technical issues with sound among others.

Wainuiomata's Les Miserables is a community production without the money or resources available to a more professional company so stage designers are to be congratulated on a simple but workable set of grey brick and arched entrances and wonderfully attractive, moving backdrops on a large, white cyc at the back. Unfortunately, the second level is a little too high and working with cast on staging, positioning and transitions needs more focus to make dramatic and effective visual images to garner further emotion from the audience.

Costumes for principals were usually well-suited and appropriate to character. Ensemble were a little improbable, exceptionally clean, ill-fitting and outside the era but the inclusion of plenty of red, white and blue sashes and rosettes is enough for us to focus on the action. Make-up was generally understated although it was obvious that Eponine had been blobbed with "mud" when this could have been subtler.

It seemed that the lighting was being run by a company who were not familiar with staging for theatre. Although colourful, there were some odd choices made in terms of lighting and the operator lacked the sensitivity to create seamless changes as performers moved around the stage. Sound on the evening this reviewer attended was not well balanced which made it difficult to hear the actors. Unfortunately, some of the arrangements on the backing track were also a little too fast which increased appreciation for an orchestra that can allow the actor to create more drama and natural sentiment at their own speed.

Performers' ability overall was mixed with variance in character development and believable processing of sub-text. There were good voices amongst the cast and the ensemble pieces were pleasing but it seemed that there was too much focus on the singing and not enough on the characterisation. Alex Coogan-Reeves tackles the demanding role of Jean Valjean with heart but is a little out of his depth both physically and in his higher register at times. Abby Hooper is a straightforward Fantine, while Natalie Ingram as Eponine is outstanding, delivering a beautiful vocal for On My Own and believable unrequited love throughout - A Heart Full of Love alongside Eleanor Deacon (Cosette) and Rowan Payne (Marius) is a highlight.

David Marris's Enjolras is heroic, communicating with the audience and creating a dynamic and delightfully sung performance. Clara Archibald (a somewhat older Young Cosette) sings with confidence and clarity and the Thenardiers (Nick Edwards and a comfortably experienced Jodie Mahan) are cartoonish and suitably melodramatic as the couple we all love to hate.

It is Chris Cox, however, who shines as the dutiful and uptight officer of the law. His singing is stellar, bringing a powerful and passionate intensity to the stage. Not only is Cox starring as Javert, he is the Musical Director who also stepped up to fill the role of Director when it became necessary. Much of this production owes him a massive debt of gratitude.

Wainuiomata's Les Miserables is fun entertainment on a cold, winter's night and everyone involved looked delighted to be part of such an iconic musical. A complete coup for the local community.

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