Les Misérables

Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 8:00pm
Pantages Theatre
Los Angeles, CA

Before I begin, I must say that this was possibly the worst experience I've had -- not the performance itself, but the ambiance. There were three or four INCREDIBLY irritating girls in the row behind us who constantly talked (not whispered, but talked), giggled, and even made comments where I know they were mocking what was on stage. This took place throughout the ENTIRE first act, despite numerous people telling them to stop. None of us could enjoy the performance. But I tried my best.

Okay, for the real review. The cast:

Jean Valjean   Randal Keith Javert   Pierce Peter Brandt *
Fantine   Joan Almedilla Young Cosette   Meg Guzulescu
Madame Thénardier   Jennifer Butt Thénardier   Norman Large
Gavroche   Austyn Myers Eponine   Melissa Lyons
Enjolras   Victor Wallace Marius   Daniel Bogart
Cosette   Leslie Henstock The Bishop of Digne   Gabriel Kalomas
Foreman   Matt Clemens ** Factory Girl   Candice Nicole
Old Woman (locket)   Lisa Capps *** Crone (hair)   Suzanna Neeley Bridges
Old Beggar Woman ("Look Down")   Marnie Nicolella Montparnasse   Kip Driver
Babet   Kevin David Thomas Brujon   Don Brewer ****
Claquesous   James Chip Leonard Combeferre   Matt Clemens **
Feuilly   Eric Briarley Courfeyrac   Jason Kraack
Joly   Charles Hagerty Grantaire   Dave Hugo
Lesgles   Gabriel Kalomas Jean Prouvaire   Ryan Williams

* Pierce Peter Brandt on for Robert Hunt
** Matt Clemens on for Pierce Peter Brandt
*** Lisa Capps on for Karen Elliot
**** Don Brewer on for Roger Seyer
***** Michelle Mallardi on for Ali Ewoldt

I didn't really have time to look at the Playbill except to figure out which of the kids were going to be on and who was on the white sub slips, so I was very surprised when it wasn't Trent Blanton in the Bamatabois/Grantaire track. Only at intermission did I look at the Playbill and see that it was Dave Hugo. Other than that, everyone was where I was expecting.

And this time, I was with a few people who had never seen this particular cast (they only saw the London cast a couple years ago), which made it even better for me because I somewhat can put myself into their shoes, as in vicariously experiencing these performers for the first time. It's weird, but that's how my brain works. I was glad they were getting to see Randal Keith, but unfortunately they missed out on Robert Hunt's performance.

I do also have to note that the tempo of the show was quite a bit faster than in San Francisco or D.C. I don't know whose choice it is (conductor, director?), but it somewhat messed up the timing of many scenes and it felt very rushed. But luckily, the actors were able to take some scenes where there was little music and draw it out a little, for dramatic effect. Not often, but it was nice when it happened.

Individual performances:

Randal Keith

As always, I have nothing but wonderful things to say about his Valjean, and most of it I've said already. Even from the back of the theatre, I felt every bit of his emotion through his voice and movements. If it's at all possible, "Bring Him Home" was even better than any previous performance I've seen -- so peacefully elegant and powerful at the same time. I swear hearing angels sing pales in comparison.

Pierce Peter Brandt

I've seen Pierce go on as Javert once before (first show last year in SF), and while I thought he was good then, I thought this performance was even better. He was able to convey a much more defined character with a stronger sense of determination and duty -- much of it through his body movements and voice inflections (because we couldn't really see his face at all). And while Robert Hunt tends to let his determination come through his incredible intensity and you get a sense that at some point he will lose control of it, Pierce's Javert seemed to hold more of that inside, only letting us get little glimpses of it now and then. It's that dichotomy of being incredibly dedicated yet too rigid to really let it show that made me really like his portrayal.

Joan Almedilla

I'm sorry, but I had a really hard time enjoying Joan's performance. Maybe it was because of the stupid girls behind us, but none of what I saw and liked from her portrayal of Fantine in D.C. seemed to be there. I do have to say she did quite a bit more acting, which was nice in "I Dreamed a Dream" but that just meant some parts (especially in "Fantine's Arrest") were overacted. I'd come to accept that her belting would never quite be easy on the ears, but even much of the rest of her singing just seemed off. It just didn't resonate right. But I will say that her death scene still is one of the best I've seen -- that she does well.

Meg Guzulescu

From the back of the theatre, she looked really tiny and even frail, as I guess Young Cosette is supposed to be. And even though her voice is as clean and beautiful as I've heard every time I've seen her go on (and she even got a brief bit of applause after "Castle on a Cloud"), that's all there is -- just singing. She still hasn't quite mastered the acting part of this role, which surprises me since she's done it for over a year now. I really do wish she'd do something more than just stand and stare off into space while Mme. Thénardier is indulging Young Eponine -- maybe a look of jealousy, hurt, anger, self-pity, or even just moving around a little -- something!

Jennifer Butt

Damn. I did not think it was at all possible for Jennifer's Mme. Thénardier to be any more nasty, vicious, and wicked toward Young Cosette, but somehow she did it. There were times where Jennifer was practically roaring at the little girl and would tower over her like she was going to smack her. It made you feel really bad for Young Cosette. I also really liked the way she played off Norman, because her Mme. Thénardier really cannot stand him and only puts up staying with him because they are so good at swindling for some kind of profit.

Norman Large

The leader of the Romulan Empire returns (for me at least). Seriously, it was great to see him back after having enjoyed seeing him in San Francisco a few times. I was really looking forward to having him crack me up like he did then, but he's actually had to tone down a lot of the comedy. We talked to him at the stage door afterward, and he said that the director told him to nix all of the extraneous comedy. If Thénardier is going to be funny at all, it has to be a part of the nastiness of his character. So, he kept the extended nose-digging (probably even more so than before) and holding up two fingers instead of three during "three percent for sleeping with the window shut" in "Master of the House", and the really disgusting belch at the beginning of "The Waltz of Treachery". Instead of spitting directly on Young Cosette's face though, he pulls out a rag, spits into that, and wipes Young Cosette's face clean. And I don't quite remember what he did in SF, but when he and Jennifer are crossing themselves as "good Christians", he stops and looks as if he's picking his wedgie as Randal tosses a glance at him. No more "correc....t" or hanging Young Cosette upside-down on his arm. Though, it was amusing at the beginning of "Master of the House" when Young Eponine runs up to him, and he pretends to try to pick her up but can't lift her off the floor.

"Dog Eats Dog" was particularly good, too. He still startles the heck out of me when he sings, "And God in His Heaven, he don't interfere ... 'CAUSE HE'S DEAD! as the stiffs at my feet" because he's actually rather quiet leading up to the exclamation. The funny bit before "Beggars at the Feast" was a little diminished this time around because as he dropped the platter, it kind of fell on Jennifer's dress before hitting the ground, so there was not really much of a clanging sound, which wasn't as funny. But he was quite funny when pointing out the "prince", "Jew" and "the queer" because he was so deliberate about it (and I love Ryan's reaction as he stumbles across the stage).

Austyn Myers

I still think Austyn is one of the best Gavroches ever. I've said it before, but this kid delivers so much spunk and attitude that there is absolutely no doubt that he grew up on the streets. I loved his delivery of "Gavroche's Comments" because while it seemed he was enunciating very deliberately, it came across as very child-like haughtiness that was very funny and very cute. He got a nice round of applause after that. His acting is still spectacular. You really do get the feeling that he wants to be in the middle of this revolutionary uprising, and if he could just have a gun, he'd happily do his share of damage to the other side. His death scene, as always, was difficult to watch. Especially since this time, he was completely fearless, even after being shot (to which the entire audience seemed to collectively moan "Oh no!"). After he was hit, he recoiled and struggled on the ground for quite some time before getting back up. His throwing of the bullet bag missed Victor's hands by mere inches, and interestingly, when he was shot for the final time, he didn't fall forward like usual. He actually fell off to the side as if the force of the bullet pushed him over that way.

Melissa Lyons

As practically every time I've seen her (which has been every time that I've gone since 2004!), I loved her Eponine. But I don't know if it's because she's not playing off of Adam Jacobs anymore or what, but her relationship with Dan's Marius is a little different. Gone now is that emotional depth I started to see and appreciate in D.C. She's not quite as playful and she doesn't let it come through as much that she is attracted to him. But she does seem more like a sisterly friend, at least at the beginning of "One Day More" where she kneels down right next to Dan, comforting him in just being there. (I'm sure there were more examples, but I don't really remember them.) "On My Own" was incredible as always -- heartfelt, hurt, and ever-so-slightly angry. Her voice is just amazing.

Victor Wallace

Poor Victor. Probably not his best show. I mean, his singing and acting were spectacular and very strong. But probably not one he wants to remember. His voice broke very obviously at the end of "they will come when we call!" Luckily he didn't it distract him one bit, as his look of determination carried on right over to "Do You Hear the People Sing" and for me, at least, it was all quickly forgotten. Then, he told us at the stage door that he had a tear in his costume, near the crotch. I'm not sure at what point during the show he noticed this, but that has to be very distracting, wondering who in the audience could see what. Luckily, no one at the stage door said they noticed.

But anyway. I love his voice. So strong and very clean, not at all overdone, and it so cleanly conveys Enjolras' stubborn determination for justice. You can't help but take everything he says and does seriously, which is why it's so believable that all the students so bravely followed him to their deaths, even though they knew it was a lost cause.

Daniel Bogart

I kind of have mixed feelings about my first viewing of Dan's Marius. First, it was good to see someone other than Adam. Mind you, I liked Adam, but having seen him so many times along with his odd way of making some vowels resonate, it was good to see another actor in the role. Second, I like how he wasn't completely oblivious to Eponine. Whereas Adam just seemed to see none of Eponine's flirting with him (or at least disregarded it), Dan seemed to see it but just interpreted it differently, treating her in a very sisterly manner. In D.C. I mentioned how it almost annoyed me that Adam's Marius was almost cruel in the way he swooned over Cosette and even selfishly pushed Eponine out of his way to get a better look at Cosette through the gate, but Dan thankfully did none of that. He was very much aware of Eponine and even appreciative of her bringing him to the house. He even at one point cupped Melissa's face in his hands in a deeply grateful gesture that almost broke my heart.

But I have to say that I didn't enjoy his voice as much as I'd hoped. My description of Michael Halling's "one-man opera" applies to Dan just as much, if not more. It was when he was singing loud and trying to really project his voice that there was way too much vibrato, to the point where it did sound like he was trying to be operatic. He loses the ability to maintain a single pitch and it almost sounds like he isn't on key anymore. But like I said, it's only when he seems to try too hard, because when he's singing less forcefully, it is really quite nice. "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" was definitely his strongest performance because he wasn't trying to do too much. You could really get a sense of his grief when he stared -- almost haunted -- at the empty chairs beside him after the ghosts of his friends have gone away. "A Little Fall of Rain" was really nice too, as his voice blended well with Melissa's. I can't say if I like how his voice blends with Leslie's just yet, but it didn't strike me as the best match.

But like I said, this was only my first time seeing him. I'll certainly see him again, and from closer up.

Leslie Henstock

Leslie's Cosette is so wonderful. Strong, certainly, as that is not an adjective I can use with other Cosette's I've seen. I only had two issues with her performance: 1) Somewhere between D.C. and here in L.A., her vowels have gotten much more "Americanized", and really not in a good way. (I guess that was part of Adam's vowel problems, too. Did he rub off on her?) Whereas British vowels are sung very open and resonate "vertically" (as we described it when I sang in choir), American spoken vowels are more "horizontal" and sharp (not in pitch but quality of resonance). When singing American English, you're supposed to go somewhere in between for the vowels to not be so piercing. There were several times this stuck out in "In My Life" (the words "last" and "fast" come to mind). 2) It is quite hard to get a read of her character from the back of the theatre. I think why I enjoyed the depth of her performances so much previously was because I was sitting so close to the stage and could really see her facial expressions, which is where most of her acting seems to be in addition to her voice.

But really, those are rather minor points. I was very happy to see Leslie's Cosette. I still love the way she plays off Randal, as the loving daughter who cares so much for her father, yet is starting to feel too old to be kept in the dark. It's great how her anger toward him gradually softens after he hands her her old doll (and I'm not sure, but this transition seemed to be much longer than I remember, too, which provided a good amount of emotional resonance). And from what I remember, she's usually distracted by someone during "The Wedding Chorale" and her attention is only drawn to Marius and the Thénardiers after Mme.'s "but first, you pay!" But this time, she was hovering behind Dan the entire time.

Dave Hugo

I also wanted to throw in my initial review of Dave Hugo as Grantaire, because, frankly, I miss Trent Blanton. Dave is wonderfully excellent at playing a drunk (and he progressively appears to get more and more drunk over the course of the show, to the point where he's very believably stumbling around and chugging wine directly from the bottle), but he's just not as funny as when Trent does it. Trent adds a bit more to it that makes him amusing to watch, especially some of the things he does when he's not the center of attention. Although, it was kind of amusing the way Dave poured wine out of the bottle he used to mock Marius in "Red and Black", and offered the glass to Dan who just stared at it and then gingerly put it down. But that was about all the humor I got out of him. There was also no interaction between him and Enjolras during "Drink With Me" that I came to enjoy so much between Trent and Victor. Victor got angry, slammed his hand on the chest he was sitting on, and stormed away, and that was that.