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Review of Les Misérables

Saturday, June 25, 2005 at 8:00pm
Curran Theatre
San Francisco, CA

Knowing that today was going to be Tonya Dixon's last day, I had to go see her one more time. And I am so glad I did. The entire cast seemed different -- certainly more energetic (even more so than last week), but in addition, the acting was tons better. Not that it was bad before or anything, but it just seemed like everyone was much more conscientious about making their singing more dynamic (making use of volume, texture, and tone changes) such that the end result was so much more dramatic and expressive than I have ever seen it (which is interesting in comparison to what I heard about the Friday matinee). I can't even tell you how many times I got chills running down my back.

Tonight's cast:

Jean Valjean Randal Keith Mme. Thénardier Jennifer Butt
Javert Trent Blanton * Gavroche Sean Gilbert
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 Dave Hugo ***
Crone (hair) Betsy Werbel **** Courfeyrac Roger Seyer
Pimp James Chip Leonard Joly Charles Hagerty
Bamatabois Matt Clemens ** Grantaire Matt Clemens **
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

* Trent Blanton is the understudy replacement of Robert Hunt
** Matt Clemens replaces roles regularly played by Trent Blanton
*** Dave Hugo replaces roles regularly played by Eric Briarley
**** Betsy Werbel replaces roles regularly played by Nina Negri

Randal Keith:

I did not think Randal could improve his portrayal of Valjean any more from last week, but he proved me wrong. Right from the "Prologue", the difference was apparent. Vocally, I think he was already at the apex of what is humanly possible, and he sang with that same unsurpassable quality. But his delivery was much more vibrant because he put emphasis on key words/phrases that he didn't do before. Examples:

  • "Nor forgive them for what they've done. They are the guilty, every one."
  • "They gave me a number and murdered Valjean"
  • "I feel my shame inside me like knife"
  • "This is a factory, not a circus! Now come on, ladies, settle down!"
  • the last "I will see it done!" at the end of "Fantine's Arrest"
  • and tons more examples that I can't remember off the top of my head

But in other places, he took it in the other direction and made some moments even more heartbreaking. For example, the exchange between Valjean and Fantine in "Come to Me" was absolutely heart wrenching.

Trent Blanton:

I saw Trent understudy for Robert Hunt last year, and it was his turn to do it again. While I don't remember the details of his performance last year, I do remember (from the review I wrote) that I liked his performance but not so much the fact that he didn't enunciate enough nor did he give his singing the gusto Javert's character demands. Well, I cannot complain about that this time. His performance this time was very emphatic and complemented the dominating presence he commanded on stage, aided by the strong booming voice that he has. It was interesting that he performed "Stars" without the baton -- I wonder if something happened and didn't have it in "Javert's Intervention" -- but it was fine because he actually moved about quite a bit more than other Javerts I've seen during "Stars", but in a way that worked well and wasn't at all distracting. "Javert's Soliloquy" was amazingly powerful, particularly at "And does he know that granting me my life today, this man has killed me even so?"

Trent's approach to Javert is unique (and I think it's funny how the three times I've seen this particular run in SF, I've seen three different Javerts), but the thing I noticed most about his performance is that he tends to be much looser in terms of timing. He sometimes deliberately delays the entrance of a line such that it's not on cue with the music, which in a way works, but draws attention when you're expecting it to be on time with the music. The only time it became an issue was at the end of "The Confrontation" when he and Randal sing "I swear to you, I will be there". They didn't start at the same time and I think Randal had to look at him to make sure they stayed together, whereas he usually sings the line looking at Fantine the entire time. This, again, is just a matter of not having had as much time on stage together. Blanton also sometimes sings with a higher voice than you might expect for a Javert -- not that his notes are sharp (because they're perfectly on key), but I think his natural voice just resonates slightly higher.

Tonya Dixon:

Wow, if there is a night to put on a best performance, it would have to be your last, right? Tonya did just that. I just love the expression she has on her face when she realizes just about everyone in the factory has ganged up against her and want the foreman to fire her. "I Dreamed a Dream" was powerful, both in emotion and vocal quality, but it was the desperation that came through in her voice in "Come to Me" that got to me -- the way that she was begging Valjean to stay with her and to watch over Cosette, clutching Randal's arm so tightly.

From where I was sitting in the theatre (box seats, house right), I had a perfect view of Tonya's face during the "Finale" when she kneels before Randal. Just as Cosette and Marius come running in, she takes a step back, smiles at Valjean, and silently mouths "not yet". It's as if she is granting Valjean a few more moments of life to be with Cosette and so that the loose ends of their lives can finally be tied together.

But when she, Eponine and Valjean join hands and sing their little trio ("And remember the truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God"), Tonya became so choked up that she could not sing anymore. She just stood there, with her left arm extended, fighting back tears and letting Melissa and Randal finish singing the verse without her. It was such an emotional moment.

Rachel Schier:

This time, Rachel's performance was not a carbon copy of the previous ones I saw, and I almost couldn't recognize her voice and had to wait until I got a good look at her to make sure it was indeed her. Her singing is much, much improved. She still very sweet sounding, but she is able to sing much more strongly and her voice is able to carry much better. Her acting, which I thought was pretty good to begin with, was even better. She seemed more pleading as she begged to not be sent into the woods and did a good job at being startled when Mme. Thénardier screamed, "Enough of that! Or I'll forget to be nice!"

David Benoit & Jennifer Butt:

Just when I thought David couldn't get any crazier, he managed to prove me wrong again. I can't even begin to tell you how wildly chaotic (but the chaos was still ordered chaos) "Master of the House" was. Just taking his performance in itself, he was incredibly playful with the role and pumped up his lines by varying his tone of voice. But when you throw him in with the rest of the cast who were doing everything imaginable in MOTH ... look out. (After the show, he mentioned how much of an aerobic workout he gets in performing as Thénardier.) And then at the beginning of "Beggars at the Feast", when he's commenting on the men dancing by with their ladies, "Here comes a prince, there goes a Jew. This one's a queer, but what can you do?" and the third guy (damn, what is his name?!) trips and stares at him in utter shock, David grabs him and gives him a big smack on the lips. Oye, I couldn't contain myself. Jennifer, too, was just as energetic, especially in "Beggars at the Feast".

Sean Gilbert:

Wow, what an improvement. While he did a decent job at singing last year, you couldn't really say the same for his acting, but it was okay then because he was just so darned cute. He's still really cute, but since December he's learned how to deliver his lines more effectively. I was pleasantly surprised in "Look Down" and at the end of "Stars" when he makes his comments. But I particularly liked the way he announced that Lamarque was dead. After shouting "Listen!" at the top of his lungs, he takes a long pause before saying, "General Lamarque is dead," and he says it in such a way that lets you know that it indeed a pivotal development.  Gilbert still seems to have a little trouble with gross motor skills, however. Running and climbing up and down the barricade still requires a great deal of effort, but he gets by. The only time it became an issue was in "The Death of Gavroche" when he was supposed to throw the bag of ammunition to be caught by (I think) Enjolras, but his aim was a little off and it bounced back to the ground near him.

Melissa Lyons:

What I noticed most about Melissa's performance was that she sang so beautifully. She already had been doing an excellent job imparting emotion into most of her singing, but she took up a notch higher tonight, particularly in allowing the melodies to carry more. I just didn't want her to stop singing! I really can't think of a place where she could have been better. "On My Own" was so sad, yet she gave it a bit of her stubborn flair at the end. The smaller scenes she had (like in "Look Down" and "Eponine's Errand") were executed incredibly well, too, but it was in "In My Life" and "A Heart Full of Love" where her hurt really came through. However, the highlight of her performance really was "A Little Fall of Rain". Never had I seen or heard it done so well (and half the credit of how successful it was goes to Adam Jacobs, too), to the point where it actually got to me (when I thought I'd been desensitized to Eponine's death from listening to it so many times). It was all in the way she and Adam played off each other -- Eponine satisfied that she will spend her last moments of life in the arms of the man she loves, her hands clinging tightly to Marius, and Marius desperately wanting to comfort her so that she will finally know peace, if only for a short time. And then, the way Melissa brought on Eponine's end -- reaching up to kiss Marius, but never quite making it -- was devastating to watch.

Adam Jacobs:

For most of Adam's performance, he seemed like an entirely different actor, particularly in the second act. While I have liked his portrayal of Marius because he has such a great voice, past performances seemed to be somewhat on the monotone side -- at least in the sense that he used the same full-force voice for just about everything he sang. Today, however, he backed off his voice just slightly and it made such a tremendous difference. He was able to give his singing texture, emphasizing certain words, and gave his portrayal a good deal of color that had been lacking before. "A Heart Full of Love" was just wonderful and he played off Leslie quite well, in that they actually looked like they were about to melt at each other's feet. "A Little Fall of Rain", as mentioned above, was performed so well. "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" was heart wrenching because of how much grief, anger and despair Adam put into his voice.

Leslie Henstock:

Putting aside the tone of her upper range (it's not going away so I'm just going to have to live with it), Leslie's Cosette was such a joy to watch and listen to. The second half of "In My Life" was powerful, stemming from how insistent she made Cosette in wanting Valjean to open up about her past. And as mentioned for AHFOL, she and Adam both seemed to be on the same wavelength, and you could almost see their love physically blossoming. I particularly liked the tenderness she showed in "Every Day" -- just in the simple way she took Marius' hand in hers and was thinking back to the day they first met. It was so sweet. Also, because of where I was sitting, I had a perfect line of sight to watch her expressions during the "Finale" and just that alone was enough to get me teary-eyed, but add how desperate she sounded in begging Valjean to live ... I just about lost it.

Michael Halling:

Michael's Enjolras was so much more assertive and he was more convincing at being a rebellion leader. He is really settling into this role quite well. I was able to see in him the desire to unite the people and to unwaveringly stand up for (and even die for) what he so vehemently believes in, particularly in "Red and Black" which was quite fiery. And the transition into "Do You Hear the People Sing" was almost haunting because of how he went still while standing on the table, staring off into space as if he could actually see the new world they were fighting for. Still, I can't quite say that his voice fits this role, in that he sings very operatically. It's just a matter of how the voice resonates, I think.

Miscellaneous notes:

Overall rating: 5 out of 5! Seriously could not have been better.

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