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Review of Les Misérables

Thursday, May 1, 2003 at 8:00pm
Sacramento Community Theatre
Sacramento, CA

This was my fifth time seeing Les Misérables, and at $60, I considered that a bargain for a seat in orchestra row H at an evening performance. I was, however, at the very end of the row in seat #1 (house right). But for the most part, it didn't hinder my experience too much -- only during "A Little Fall of Rain," when Marius was blocking my view of Eponine, did I wish for a different seat.

I originally thought I was going to be seeing a cast that resembled the one I saw last year prior to the "warm-up" for their tour in China, but I guess there were major changes just before arriving at Sacramento. This was the cast that I saw this time:

Jean Valjean   Ivan Rutherford   Mme. Thénardier   Jodi Capeless
Javert   Stephen Tewksbury   Gavroche   Erik Tolman Ward
Fantine   Tonya Dixon   Eponine   Jessica-Snow Wilson
Young Cosette   Skylar Harden   Enjolras   Dallyn Vail Bayles
Young Eponine   Erika Kiyomi Johnson   Marius   Scott Hunt
M. Thénardier   Michael Hayward-Jones   Cosette   Amanda Huddleston
             

Rest of cast in order of appearance:

Farmer   Steve Gannon   Montparnasse   Alex Lubliner
The Bishop of Digne   Michael St. John   Babet   Daniel Bogart
Constables   Daniel Bogart & Stephen Colella   Brujon   David Michael Felty
Foreman   Brian Neal Clark   Claquesous   Stephen Colella
Factory Girl   Linda Pierson Huff   Combeferre   Brian Neal Clark
Old Woman (locket)   Victoria Oscar   Feuilly   John-Andrew Clark
Crone (hair)   Leslie Henstock   Courfeyrac   Steve Gannon
Pimp   Stephen Colella   Joly   Matthew Teague Miller
Bamatabois   Paul Truckey   Grantaire   Paul Truckey
Fauchelevant   Stephen Colella   Lesgles   Michael St. John
Old Beggar Woman ("Look Down")   Stella Lee   Jean Prouvaire   Jerry Jay Cranford
Young Prostitute   Lisa Morris *   Major Domo   Matthew Teague Miller
             

* Lisa Morris was substituting for Melina Marie Kalomas

Stephen Tewksbury and Skylar Harden were the only ones from the San Francisco cast that were in this performance. I had seen Ivan Rutherford as Valjean back in 2000. The rest of the principal cast I had never heard of before.

Overall, this performance ranks as one of the best I've ever seen, possibly surpassing that of last year's in San Francisco. The vocal quality of the performers was exquisite -- notes were exact, enuciation was precise but not overdone, and the drama was supported by both music and lyrics. I had complained last year that the instrumentation sounded underpowered, but this time, it was fuller, even so much at times that it drowned out the singing momentarily. I might have been worried if I didn't already know the lyrics by heart, but since I do, it didn't have a drastic impact for me.

The shortening of the libretto was a little easier to swallow this time, possibly because I've had a year to digest it. But I still have some qualms about literally cutting half of "Come to Me" and "Turning," and rushing some parts just to get through them faster.

The only major change I noticed in the staging was the fact that there were no trap doors to go under the stage. Therefore, the Thénardiers were not able to pop up from "underground" in "One Day More" and Valjean was not able to drag Marius down into the sewers just before "Dog Eats Dog." In both cases, they had to make do without them and run off-stage. I suppose this was because the Sacramento Community Theatre did not have the space under the stage like most other theatres.


Ivan Rutherford: I don't remember Rutherford's performance the last time I saw him, so I don't have any reference with which to compare his performance to himself this time. For the most part, I enjoyed his portrayal of Jean Valjean. He commands a very strong presence on the stage, and he has a powerful, but wonderfully pleasant "belting" voice. It was only in his falsetto voice where I felt he was a bit weak. For example, the beginning and ending verses of "Bring Him Home" were not as well-supported as I would have expected. Another spot was just before "One Day More" when he sings, "Must be Javert! He's found my cover at last! I've got to get Cosette away before they return ..." There, he sang it in a very light falsetto voice that didn't quite sound like it was natural for him, and a couple times he sounded just a hair flat. But this was far from the case elsewhere and like I mentioned already, he has a very strong voice that is especially good when he's singing full-force.

Stephen Tewksbury: once again a very effective Javert. I felt he was actually a bit better last year, though, because it sounded like his voice was a little ... light ... for want of a better word. I'm not sure how to describe it. He sang very well, hit all his notes, held all his long notes without the slightest waver (e.g. in "Stars" and "Soliloquy"), and gave his lines a good punch when it was called for. It just seems like I remember his voice being deeper last year. Anyway, I don't want to sound like this "lightness" is necessarily a bad thing. I don't think I could ask for a better Javert, and he definitely brought down the house with "Stars." Wow.

Tonya Dixon: My initial impression of "I Dreamed a Dream" was much like that of when I saw Carmen Cusack last year -- stronger singing in the second half of the song. But overall, Dixon's "I Dreamed a Dream" was effortless, and in "Come to Me," you could almost see Cosette come to life in her hallucination. I noticed she addressed Valjean when she was singing, "I never did no wrong ... my daughter's close to dying ..." -- this is usually addressed to Javert. Another significant difference in her performance was that she took a lot of long dramatic pauses -- some I had never heard before but were well placed and effective (such as when she was trying to sell her locket). She also did a lot more coughing in and after "Lovely Ladies," which was good because in some performances I'd seen in the past, I'd almost forgotten that she was supposed to be sick until she is confronted by Javert. And I don't know if this is true of staging in all productions, but I had a mental remark that Dixon was taking a lot of abuse in this staging. She practically slid halfway across the stage on her stomach at one point after being thrown. Ouch.

Skylar Harden was Young Cosette this time, and even though she was in the cast last year, she was Young Eponine the time(s?) I saw her last year. I very much liked her "Castle on a Cloud" -- very light and very sweet. But she seemed to be struggling the slightest bit when she was taking the chairs down off the table -- again confirming my dislike for the removal of the instrumental introduction to the song.

Michael Hayward-Jones: I was a little bummed that J.P. Dougherty was not going to be M. Thénardier because he's been this role almost every time I've seen Les Mis. But Michael Hayward-Jones was just as good, maybe even better vocally. He and Jodi Capeless seemed to have the standard antics of the Thénardier's, but one thing different this time was that they both practically hugged the life out of Young Cosette during "Thénardier Waltz". After Valjean comes to the inn with Young Cosette, he sits her down at one of the chairs and the Thénardiers in turn sat down next to her and squeezed her so tight I thought she was going to suffocate. I'm sure that was the intended effect, but it really stood out to me. A couple other things involving the Thénardiers were at Marius and Cosette's wedding: I know that the Majordomo cues the orchestra to begin playing again, but I don't remember hearing him saying "thank you" in an exasperated tone, and M. Thénardier does the exact same thing just a bit later. Also, when the Thénardiers are trying to get away with stealing the silverware and the tray drops out of M. Thénardier's coat, he usually wags his finger at the Majordomo and makes a "tsk, tsk" sound -- but this time, he points right at the Majordomo and lets out this long and loud gasp in mock surprise. Very funny.

Erik Tolman Ward was this performance's Gavroche and I definitely liked this kid's spunk. It's always disappointing to me to see a Gavroche go through his lines with them all flowing and connected, but Ward was great at putting emphasis and breaks where they were needed and really playing off the audience.

Jessica-Snow Wilson had one of the cleanest protrayals of Eponine that I have ever seen. Every one of her notes was perfectly on pitch and she can sure belt those long notes with accuracy and steadiness. It made me really look forward to "On My Own" and it couldn't have been any better. One of very few criticisms would be with the line, "No, I don't want your money, sir ..." to Marius -- she started out speaking the line then ended singing it. It just sounded a bit awkward. Another spot was just before "A Little Fall of Rain" when she's telling Marius she delivered his letter. She doesn't seem to be in any pain or out of breath or anything to give an indication that she was shot. Then all of a sudden, when she sings, "Don't think I can stand anymore," she falls, but even that didn't sound very labored. (The first few lines of "A Little Fall of Rain" were much too rushed, but I think that's an established change that was made in the 10th anniversary revisions.) And then there were a couple times where I felt she could have given Eponine a little more spunk or attitude. I mean, she interacted pretty well with Hunt's Marius. I liked how she was playfully messing around with him, and watching her watching Marius and Cosette in "A Heart Full of Love" was heartbreaking. But I was just hoping for a little bit more than the standard stuff. Other than that, she just might be one of my favorite Eponines!

Dallyn Vail Bayles: he took command of his role like his character Enjolras takes command of the rebellion. It seemed very natural for him, and I don't think there's anything I can nitpick about his performance.

Scott Hunt was Marius, and he too had a great voice that you just never want to stop listening to. He looked like kind of a little guy in comparison to the other guys in the company, but it's possible it might just be that everyone else was a lot bigger. His height wasn't all that disproportionate, though -- Wilson and Huddleston were both just a tad shorter than him. Anyway, the highlight of his performances was in portraying the survivor's guilt Marius has in "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" -- very full of emotion. My only nitpick is at the end of "A Little Fall of Rain": most performers take a pause as they watch Eponine die just before Marius sings "grow" by himself, but Hunt took a VERY long pause that made it lose its effect.

Amanda Huddleston: she may be one of the best Cosettes that I have seen live. She didn't have that overly operatic soprano voice that seems to be rather popular for this role, and she didn't overdo the vibrato. Instead, she had a well-supported voice that was mostly consistent in all of her range. Her lines in "In My Life" were great, and I was able to get a sense of her feeling trapped in this limited life Valjean confines her to. Along with Hunt and Wilson, the very last line of "A Heart Full of Love" might just be the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. Their voices blended and complemented each other so well, and as they were singing the last note of the song, I could hear several people in the audience go "Mmm ..."

Adding to the splendor of the principal cast, the ensemble was just as magnificent. The casting director(s) couldn't have chosen a better bunch and there was hardly anything out of place. The various individual lines that they had were just as clear and well-delivered as the principals and they worked extrememly well as a unit.

Other random tidbits worth mentioning (a couple might be standard practice that I just didn't notice until now):

That's all that I can recall at the moment. If I remember any more, I'll be sure to add them.

My rating of this performance? I'd have to say 4.5 out of 5.

Links to other reviews of this cast/tour:

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