BWW Reviews: Media Theatre's LES MISÉRABLES - A Heart Full of Love
Deemed 'the worlds most popular musical" as many will agree does not make the task of pulling together this action filled epic an easy one. Most theater patrons have seen Les Miserables and surely have their favorite actors singing this incredible score by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil. (Music and lyrics), with such stirring numbers as " Bring Him Home", "I Dreamed A Dream" , "On My Own", "Do You Hear the People Sing" and "One Day More".
But Les Miserables is just as much about the acting and the passion as its stirring score. Fortunately Media Theater's Artistic Director Jesse Cline has captured all the elements for making this an interesting, refreshing "Les Miz". First and foremost their carefully chosen principle cast in its entirety would rival any Broadway cast and that is likely because about 90% are indeed professional Equity actors. The focus is on the two main adversaries Jean Valjean (John D. Smitherman, with over 100 roles under his belt) and Javert ( James Zannelli, who's been a big part of Le Miz around the country). Both are played splendidly with a great sense of command for their indivdual characters. They are each vocally outstanding and both well matched as impressive opponents.
You can also easily become as awed with their Marius (Zach Monroe, Media debut!) and Enjolras (Sean Thompson, Media favorite!) who both put in exciting performances. The ladies are equally as inspiring. Lauren Cupples ( last seen in Media's Addams Family as Wednesday) vocals simply soar as the beloved Cosette and Elisa Matthews (Media's Sunset Blvd.) plays Fantine with dignity and great passion as well as a solid consoling voice. Cupples and Monroe (Cosette & Marius) are so well matched vocally in their duet " A Heart Full of Love" that they leave your heart with a "sigh of appreciation". Sarah Moya plays Eponine as a spunky, down-on-her-luck waif and makes her solo "On My Own" truly her own. Mdme.& Ms.Thenardier (Susan Wefel & Kelly Briggs) bring the much needed levity to this dark tale of disloyalty and redemption. The multi-talented Briggs is gritty and animated and delivers a grisly "Dog Eats Dog" as the sewer thief. Young Cosette and Gavroche (Jolie Jaffe and Timothy Woodward) are well played and adorable!
Staging and choreographing this long/ fast paced piece is probably one of the most "make it or break it" responsibilities of the production. An ever present large set of catwalk-style stairs are cleverly used throughout this production to keep up with the ever changing scenes and moods, though the actual barricade is missed to some extent. Award winning choreographer Dann Dunn makes excellent use of Media's scenic designer Matthew Miller's minimal, raw sets, while Troy Martin O'Shia puts the dramatic touches on the lighting.
Cline's familiar use of screen projections which have worked so well in past productions add to the drama and realism from scene to scene. His resourcefulness also works with the straightforward yet striking "Javert's Suicide" scene which can be a real challenge without a drop floor (No spoilers here). His choice to extent the stage with a roundabout allows the cast to get up front and personal which is also impressive. This is without a doubt a most pleasing production for Les Miserables fans to enjoy for the Holiday Season.
Les Miserable plays at the Media Theater through Jan. 18, 2015. Tickets and information are available at www.mediatheatre.org or 610.891.0100
Photo # 1 Susan Wefel (Madame Thenardier) and Master of the House ensemble
Photo # 2 John D. Smitherman ( Jean Valjean), James Zanelli (Javert)
Photo # 3 Sean Thompson (Enjolras) and company
Photo Credits: Maura McConnell