Review of Les Misérables

Sunday, July 3, 2005 at 2:00pm
Curran Theatre
San Francisco, CA

Back again! I was originally supposed to see Les Mis with some friends on Tuesday while home for the 4th of July weekend, but I ended up not being able to go. So, to make up for it, I made a trip out this afternoon.

Today's cast:

Jean Valjean Randal Keith Mme. Thénardier Jennifer Butt
Javert Robert Hunt Gavroche Sean Gilbert
Fantine Joan Almedilla Eponine Melissa Lyons
Young Cosette Rachel Schier Enjolras Michael Halling
Young Eponine Meg Guzulescu Marius Adam Jacobs
M. Thénardier James Chip Leonard * Cosette Ashley Fox Linton **

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 Don Brewer ***, Kevin David Thomas Brujon David Michael Felty
Foreman Pierce Peter Brandt Claquesous Don Brewer ***
Factory Girl Kelly McCormick Combeferre Pierce Peter Brandt
Old Woman (locket) Karen Elliot Feuilly Eric Briarley
Crone (hair) Nina Negri Courfeyrac Roger Seyer
Pimp Don Brewer *** Joly Charles Hagerty
Bamatabois Trent Blanton Grantaire Trent Blanton
Fauchelevant Don Brewer *** Lesgles Michael St. John
Old Beggar Woman ("Look Down")   Marnie Nicolella   Jean Prouvaire   Ryan Williams
Young Prostitute Carrie A. Johnson Major Domo Charles Hagerty

* James Chip Leonard understudied for Thénardier
** Ashley Fox Linton understudied for Leslie Henstock
*** Don Brewer replaces roles usually played by James Chip Leonard
**** Lisa Morris replaces roles usually played by Ashley Fox Linton

I was hoping to catch Norman Large as Thénardier since David Benoit had his last show on Tuesday, but James Chip Leonard has gone on for the last couple shows and did again this afternoon (so I guess I'll have to wait until next time). This was, however, my first time catching Joan Almedilla since Tonya Dixon left and Ashley Fox Linton was on in Leslie Henstock's place today as well, so it was interesting to see some new people in different roles.

Randal Keith:

Randal was out few shows this week -- two evenings because of laryngitis (apparently, some bug is going around the cast) and Saturday matinee because of the rotation schedule. He sounded great, but there were a few times here and there where I could tell his voice wasn't back to 100%. Some words came across as a little rough and he cut short a note somewhere (I think it was "if I stay silent, I am damned" in "Who am I?"). His voice also wavered the slightest bit on his long note at the very end of "What Have I Done? (Valjean's Soliloquy)". Other than that, though, he was outstanding -- as usual. It seemed like the second half of "Bring Him Home" was even more pleading than usual, and there was not even a hint of him struggling with his voice in that scene. It was so amazing that he brought the house down at the end and got an extra long applause that had a second round of cheers before it died down. Just awesome.

Robert Hunt:

Because I'd seen three different actors go on as Javert in the previous three performances I saw, this was going to be the second time for one of them, and I was glad that it was Robert Hunt. I enjoyed his performance last time and did so even more this time. He doesn't have the booming voice that Trent Blanton does, but he does have the capability to convey so much intensity in his acting that "Stars" and "Javert's Suicide" were once again his highlighting moments. I also like his cat-like prowling movements in "The Confrontation" as he is trying to corner Valjean from the other side of Fantine's bed, as if there was absolutely no way he was going to let Valjean escape if he could do anything about it. He even seemed vicious at times, particularly towards the end of their exchange. There's just something about his facial expressions though -- sometimes he contorts his face in a way that looks like he's about to break out laughing when he's trying to be angry or something.

Joan Almedilla:

At the very beginning, Joan's Fantine is quite clean in terms of her singing and her voice is nice to listen to in "At the End of the Day". "I Dreamed a Dream" similarly started out beautifully and she really does have a great voice for the mid-range notes and when she's supposed to sing softly. However, she isn't quite as aggressive in that scene as I'm used to (i.e. grabbing back the letter from Factory Girl and when she's defending herself about Cosette), but she was quite aggressive when fighting with Bamatabois and made this feral growling sound with the "r" in "rat". Her acting was quite good. For example, I got the sense that she was dejected and that life had given her a hard slap in the face in "I Dreamed a Dream". Her desperation in "Come to Me" came across quite well, particularly when she was hallucinating, and she actually died quite convincingly. Unfortunately, Joan doesn't quite have the power to belt out some of the notes in "I Dreamed a Dream" and in a couple places in subsequent songs. It is just a matter of where she is letting her voice resonate, I think, and she just isn't able to project her voice to fill the theatre like other Fantines I've seen/heard. As a result, her voice sometimes sounds muted or dampened. (It's too bad I don't remember her performance when Les Mis was in San Francisco in 2000 to compare.) She also didn't address either Valjean or Javert in "Fantine's Arrest" when she sings "I never did no wrong / my daughter's close to dying / if there's God above, he'd let me die instead" -- it was very vague, but it still worked well.

Rachel Schier:

So adorable, as always. I just love the way she is able to let Young Cosette's strong spirit come through. In the past times I've seen Rachel, she does the second half of the song kneeling and with her hands on her knees. But this time, she placed her hands on the floor in front of her such that she was leaning forward a bit more, and it makes such a difference in the way Young Cosette's dream of a better place and life comes across. She is such a delight to watch.

James Chip Leonard:

This may be the first time I've seen an understudy for Thénardier, but if I'd come into this performance not knowing James Chip Leonard was an understudy, I would never have known. He has a great singing voice that makes his songs musically wonderful. He's not quite as wild as David Benoit, but James is still a great Thénardier. He comes across as very calculating and doing what he thinks will get him what he wants. It was also quite hilarious the way he made this cat-hissing sound at the male dancer he points out as "queer" (I still can't place a name to his face) in "Beggars at the Feast".

Jennifer Butt:

Somehow, Jennifer scares me more and more every time I see her. Part of it is the freaky-looking prosthetics she wears on her face, but a lot of it is just the expressions she has on her face at various times during her performance. She was absolutely hilarious, though, in her part of "Master of the House" and it all has to do with the way her lines are delivered. She got a lot of laughs there.

Sean Gilbert:

Like last time, he was adorable. And he was able to toss the bullet bag to Enjolras this time! He also did an excellent job when delivering the news about Lamarque -- he took an extra long pause to prelude the gravity of his announcement. But I did notice that he was rather focused on gathering the bullets and rolling up the bag (both this time and last time) such that his singing in "Gavroche's Death" wasn't delivered as naturally as it could have been. And he still is kind of reaching out to get his body to land on the stuffed dummy when he is shot for the final time, rather than collapsing (which Noah E. Galvin does really well).

Melissa Lyons:

Melissa was apparently also out earlier in the week due to laryngitis and there was perhaps the slightest remnant of the bug in her voice. But I amazed how she is capable of giving Eponine such a wide range of emotions, ranging from bouncy flirtatiousness to anger to this kind of self-pity that borders on being whiney (though, in a way that fits Eponine's character). Her interaction with Adam's Marius was a bit more natural this time (whereas, before, it seemed like the way they'd poke each other on the arm was a tad repetitive), particularly in Eponine's very first scene when she takes Marius' books where she looks like a girl messing with her first crush (which is probably true for Eponine). She even pretended to tickle Adam in "Eponine's Errand" when Marius asks her to find Cosette -- that was cute. I am still blown away by her "On My Own". I want to cry every time I hear her voice echo through the theatre's silence at the end of "a world that's full of happiness that I have never known". Wow.

Adam Jacobs:

After seeing Adam five times now, I am starting to notice itty-bitty little things that don't strike me as quite right. One has to do with the way his vowels come across, although it's not really entirely his fault. American English has some vowels that just don't resonate well, as opposed to British English. There is kind of a continuum in the way vowels can be shaped, and it seems as if Adam shapes his on the extreme end of American English and made them a bit nasally. It's just a little strange. He also wasn't quite as dynamic with using his voice as last week, but "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" was still very moving. I also noticed that this time he looked at Melissa and actually acknowledged her presence just before "One Day More", whereas he usually doesn't even seem to know she's there offering to be a friend to him.

Ashley Fox Linton:

I love Ashley's voice! She has such a nice soprano voice that even her upper-range notes are so beautiful to listen to, and that they're not a struggle to project and to let resonate in the right space (which is something I feel Leslie struggles with). There were just a couple of places that sounded like she wasn't quite 100% in control of her voice, but it was just when going up to high notes or coming down from them, and it was hardly noticeable unless you were listening really carefully. Perhaps she isn't quite as youthful and bubbly as Leslie, but she certainly is not exactly meek either. Ashley's Cosette is slightly more mature, but she plays off of Adam Jacob's Marius really well and their voices blend very nicely as well. "A Heart Full of Love" was just gorgeous, as was "Every Day" (although she wasn't as tender with Marius as Leslie was last time).

Michael Halling:

Each subsequent show that I watch, I become a little more attentive to the little nuances that Michael puts into his Enjolras. I paid more attention to the dynamic between him and Grantaire, particularly in "Drink With Me" (where Michael's Enjolras looked bothered and a bit angry that Grantaire might actually be right in that they might be fighting and giving their lives for nothing, and then later reaffirm their camaraderie with Grantaire holding out his bottle and Enjolras holding out his rifle). I noticed this last time also, but when Enjolras sends the women and fathers of children from the barricade, Michael does it with such a sense of urgency that it was a little surprising, like they had to leave very quickly (but I guess that makes sense given their circumstances).

Miscellaneous notes:

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 -- it didn't have nearly the energy it did last week, but at the same time, I wasn't expecting it to. Part of it may just be that people are getting over various bugs still.

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