Review of Les Misérables

Saturday, June 18, 2005 at 2:00pm matinee
Curran Theatre
San Francisco, CA

On a spur-of-the-moment decision, I decided to go back for another performance before needing to leave for summer school. I got a solo box seat ticket, which, despite being an obstructed view, is a relatively good bargain. I was even closer than I was on Thursday and got to see facial expressions that much better, and it made for such a better show. But even beyond that, the cast had so much energy, intensity, emotion, and cohesion that wasn't as prominent on Thursday. And to make things even better, I finally got to see Robert Hunt!

This afternoon's cast:

Jean Valjean   Randal Keith   Mme. Thénardier   Jennifer Butt
Javert   Robert Hunt   Gavroche   Noah E. Galvin
Fantine   Tonya Dixon   Eponine   Melissa Lyons
Young Cosette   Rachel Schier   Enjolras   Michael Halling
Young Eponine   Meg Guzulescu   Marius   Adam Jacobs
M. Thénardier   David Benoit   Cosette   Leslie Henstock

Rest of cast in order of appearance:

Farmer   Roger Seyer   Montparnasse   Kip Driver
The Bishop of Digne   Michael St. John   Babet   Kevin David Thomas
Constables   James Chip Leonard, Kevin David Thomas   Brujon   David Michael Felty
Foreman   Pierce Peter Brandt   Claquesous   James Chip Leonard
Factory Girl   Kelly McCormick   Combeferre   Pierce Peter Brandt
Old Woman (locket)   Karen Elliot   Feuilly   Matt Clemens *
Crone (hair)   Nina Negri   Courfeyrac   Roger Seyer
Pimp   James Chip Leonard   Joly   Charles Hagerty
Bamatabois   Trent Blanton   Grantaire   Trent Blanton
Fauchelevant   James Chip Leonard   Lesgles   Michael St. John
Old Beggar Woman ("Look Down")   Marnie Nicolella   Jean Prouvaire   Ryan Williams
Young Prostitute   Carrie A. Johnson   Major Domo   Charles Hagerty

* Matt Clemens replaces roles regularly played by Eric Briarley

This is almost the exact same cast as Thursday except for Robert Hunt coming back as Javert (apparently he had been sick for a few days, and I guess several other cast members have been ill, too) and Pierce Peter Brandt who was back in his usual role as Combeferre.

The only thing about the box seats (aside from being partially obstructed) was that I had a very clear view of the orchestra pit -- which was nice in a way because I could see the instruments being played, but at the same time was a little distracting at times because it is relatively brightly lit and makes a semi-halo around the stage. It also made the trumpets sound very loud, which blared and drowned out the singing in "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and "One Day More".

Randal Keith:

Seriously, I don't know what to say about Randal Keith that hasn't already been said many times before. And from my box seat, I was able to see just what an exceptional actor he is in addition to being an exceptional singer -- such as the little nuances he gave to Valjean's character that I don't think is visible beyond a few rows from the stage (unless you've got 30/20 vision or better). It is incredibly natural and none of ever seemed forced or ill-timed. A good example would be when the Bishop is insisting that Valjean accept the silver to use to turn his life around -- the range of emotions that flash across Keith's face varied from shock, denial, guilt, sorrow, etc. and yet it all seemed appropriate.

The only time I could even maybe think that his voice was faltering was in "The Bargain" when he was kneeling in front of Young Cosette and singing "I shall not forsake my vow" -- it just sounded like he was fighting to keep his voice steady.

Robert Hunt:

Wow. I honestly think Robert Hunt is the best Javert I have ever seen. (Have I said that for another actor already?) He has so much intensity in his singing and acting that I don't think I've ever seen from any actor portraying Javert live. He seemed to be very conscious of enunciating his words at key points (although he did a great job of making his singing very clear the entire time) but it was never overdone. From the moment he began singing in the "Prologue" all the way to "Javert's Suicide", he had very prominent presence on stage and projected himself in a way to match that. He was quite menacing in the "Prologue" without being scary. And apparently he is known for his dramatic gestures during "Javert's Suicide" and I got to see that for myself today. It was just pushing the boundary to overdoing it, but not quite. He made Javert's tumultuous inner turmoil very apparent. Even the simple act of pretending to point out on the map where the army is planning to attack ("Concentrate their force -- hit us from ... the right"), he takes that pause and actually has Javert pretend to study the map for a brief second to make his deception more believable. If it weren't for Gavroche, the students would have completely fell for it.

I also noticed the way that Hunt was encouraging the "sniper" in "The First Attack" while he was sitting bound in the chair (and being otherwise quite calm). I just don't think I've noticed it before -- and especially since all I remember of that scene on Thursday is Brandt's frightened heaving breaths. It's just that they're two different approaches to that scene that I never really thought about before.

Tonya Dixon:

Again, wow. Tonya Dixon might actually have been better today than Thursday, which I didn't think was at all possible. "I Dreamed a Dream" was just amazing, really showcasing how awesome her voice is.

Rachel Schier:

Schier's performance was essentially a carbon copy of Thursday, though I got a sense of how good of an actress she is for being eight years old (or somewhere in that vicinity). She really did look frightened when Madame Thénardier caught her not doing her chores and she was actually shaking, particularly when she was holding that huge wooden bucket and looked as if she was ready to burst into tears. Wow. And I just love the expression she has on her face when Monsieur Thénardier holds her under his arm during the "Waltz of Treachery" -- like she's thinking, "What the heck?"

David Benoit & Jennifer Butt:

David Benoit was all over the place during "Master of the House", bouncing here and there, adding to the high energy of the song. Both Thursday and today, he sprawled himself across the table, kicking his legs in the air somewhere around "Tells a saucy tale, makes a little stir ..." It was quite funny. Also at the end of "Waltz of Treachery", after Valjean gives them the 1500 francs and leaves with Young Cosette, he grabs for the money while Jennifer Butt leapt onto his back, at which point he yells, "Get off me, you little whore!" He did that on Thursday as well, but I don't remember him doing that last year.

Jennifer Butt makes for one scary-looking Madame Thénardier. Not only is she quite thin (a little on the boney side, if you ask me), has that flaming red hair thing going, and what has to be a partial mask to make her right cheek look slightly asymmetrical, she just has this way of moving on stage that just screams "crazy lady". It's great. Also, I just love that her experience with this role made her lines in "Master of the House" come through with perfect timing and delivery.

Noah E. Galvin:

I still love Noah E. Galvin's Gavroche. The kid can sing, that's for sure. Somehow he manages to make all of his lines very melodic (and even a bit of vibrato here and there!) but still keeps all of the proper emphasis on key words. Again, I have to re-iterate how much love his defiant burst just before getting shot to death -- it really takes the scene up a couple notches and makes his death that much more devastating (to me, at least). (I have never gotten through this scene without crying, and Galvin's performance both Thursday and today made it that much harder for me.)

Melissa Lyons:

Melissa Lyons' performance was quite a bit better today compared to Thursday. She just seemed a bit more insistent in everything that she said and did, which meant she was a bit more flirty with Marius, too, but that was fine. She was just practically screaming, "Oh, pity me!" in the tone of her voice at the very beginning of "Eponine's Errand" as she is singing, "Look what's become of me ..." She also cranked up the emotion in "On My Own" wherein she sounded like she was on the verge of tears both at the beginning introduction to the song and obviously at the end when she is repeating "I love him ..." Though, there were a few lines toward the end of "On My Own" where it sounded like she was holding back just a bit, because I know how powerful her voice can be but she didn't give it her all at "I love him, but every day I'm learning all my life, I've only been pretending ..." I actually got all teary-eyed at the end of "A Little Fall of Rain", which is something that hasn't happened in a long time (mainly because I've become desensitized to it).

Adam Jacobs:

Adam Jacobs was another whose performance was better today. It seemed like he took his time with his delivery a little more and managed to put some emphasis on key phrases. There were maybe a few places he overdid the vibrato and sounded like he was warbling, mainly in "In My Life" (see my comments for Leslie Henstock), but "A Heart Full of Love" was really beautiful and it has been a while since I've seen "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" done so well. He took advantage of the dramatic pauses that are naturally written in the song and really wrenched every ounce of grief out of them. It was also particularly dramatic when he stood up at "Oh, my friends, my friends, don't ask me what your sacrifice was for ..." If I'd read or heard about him doing that, I might have thought it strange, but it actually worked quite nicely -- as if he was trying to confront his survivor's guilt face-on or something (and I'm pretty sure he didn't do that on Thursday).

Leslie Henstock:

Okay, I'm not crazy. I know she didn't sound this shrill last year, because I remember liking her portrayal of Cosette. But for some reason, since the Los Angeles engagement, her approach to it must have changed and now she sounds like she's warbling from time to time. But really, it's not quite as bad as I'm making it sound because it's only when she tries to add vibrato to her upper soprano range. She still is one of the best Cosettes I've seen live because even though she has this style of singing I'm not too fond of, she still has the strength to give her voice support. Also her voice blends quite well with Adam Jacobs' so "A Heart Full of Love" and "Every Day" were just beautiful.

Michael Halling:

I'm not sure if Michael Halling's singing was better this time or if it's just that I'm getting accustomed to his voice. I still think there were times when I felt his voice could have filled the space a little better (i.e. been more resonant), but it wasn't quite as noticeable as Thursday. I never really paid attention to Enjolras' movements or facial expressions when he wasn't singing before, but today I noticed in "Red and Black" that Halling had this half-pissed half-amused look on his face when Marius was singing about his run-in with Cosette. That was interesting.

Miscellaneous notes:

Overall rating: 4.75 out of 5! It will be incredibly difficult to top this one!!

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