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Review of Les Misérables

Sunday, July 16, 2005 at 8:00pm
Curran Theatre
San Francisco, CA

Again! This, I think, was my 11th time ... 5th since this run in SF began. Apparently, people are ill again -- which is why Randal Keith and Leslie Henstock were out, and perhaps Pierce Peter Brandt, too. So, I got to see a Valjean understudy for the first time, and after having seen Ashley Fox Linton last time, I've now seen both understudies for Cosette. This was also my first time seeing Norman Large since he took over as Thénardier.

The cast:

Jean Valjean Roger Seyer * Mme. Thénardier Jennifer Butt
Javert Robert Hunt Gavroche Noah E. Galvin
Fantine Joan Almedilla Eponine Melissa Lyons
Young Cosette Meg Guzulescu Enjolras Michael Halling
Young Eponine Rachel Schier Marius Adam Jacobs
M. Thénardier Norman Large Cosette Nina Negri **

Rest of cast in order of appearance:

Farmer Don Brewer *** 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 Don Brewer *** Claquesous James Chip Leonard
Factory Girl Kelly McCormick Combeferre Don Brewer ***
Old Woman (locket) Karen Elliot Feuilly Eric Briarley
Crone (hair) Lisa Morris **** Courfeyrac Don Brewer ***
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

* Roger Seyer understudied for Randal Keith
** Nina Negri understudied for Leslie Henstock
*** Don Brewer replaces roles usually played by Roger Seyer and Pierce Peter Brandt
**** Lisa Morris replaces roles usually played by Nina Negri
***** Betsy Werbel replaces roles usually played by Shahara Ray

Much of the following came from my LJ post and then added to:

Roger Seyer:

Roger was ... different. He is the first understudy I've ever seen for Valjean, and having seen Randal Keith the previous six or something times, it was a bit of an adjustment to see someone else. But he definitely falls into the "actor that sings" category of performers. I mean, he can sing, but he certainly doesn't have the voice that fits the role. His falsetto was rather strained and this was the first time that I wanted "Bring Him Home" to finish faster. But putting that aside, he sings in his middle range quite well and I liked the rest of his performance. He had a lot of power in "Valjean's Soliloquy" that could rival Randal's. He's a great actor and puts a lot of depth into his inflections and movement on stage. For instance, he took several drinks from the pool after being released on parole, but then splashed the water angrily when he sang "never forget the years, the waste" and also tossing away what little he was paid by the farmer ("this handful of tin wouldn't buy my sweat!"). He also chose some interesting places to used a hushed tone of voice -- such as when talking to the foreman after breaking up the fight ("I look to you to sort this out, and be as patient as you can") and then when releasing Javert ("We meet again" and "You talk to much ... your life is safe in my hands").

One of the most striking things I noticed was his relationship with Cosette -- very protective of her, but at the same time emotionally distant. I also enjoyed "Valjean's Confession" a lot -- he kept rubbing his hands against each other, as if he was wiping his hands clean of this secret he's been keeping and that doing that would help him to force his dark past out into the open as he relayed it to Marius. The "Epilogue" was great, too. His love for Cosette really came through, and he really seemed to finally be at peace with himself after giving Cosette the letter, making his death that much more emotional.

There was one obvious flub: when he was supposed to sing "when they chained me and left me for dead", he confused that line with the next and mumbled something ending with "bread" and then sang "just for stealing a mouthful of bread".

Robert Hunt:

Damn, how does Robert have the energy to be so intense?! Every performance I've seen of him, he puts so much of himself into it, and this time it was as if there was a knob he could turn and he had it turned up to max. "Stars" was amazing, probably the best I have ever seen or heard, and "Javert's Suicide" was equally as, if not more, emotional. The image I had in my head was if he were to get any more intense, he'd spontaneously combust or something. The scene I noticed this most was during his suicide -- he was acting with so much force that the lights on the bridge were swaying, and I was afraid he was going to break something.

Joan Almedilla:

Joan seemed have settled a little bit better back into this role. Overall, it seemed as if she put more depth into Fantine's character this time, using different tones of voice and playing with inflection. There was a little bit more aggressiveness in "At the End of the Day" as she was defending herself and she sang "I Dreamed a Dream" with a greater sense of 'what could have been'. "Come to Me" was even sadder this time, as she was quite convincing in hallucinating that she was seeing Cosette. I just wish she'd figure out a way to belt better.

Meg Guzulescu:

Meg Guzulescu has an amazing voice for an 8-year-old. Strong, very controlled, quite mature and yet still youthful. Often with kids, they have a little bit of a harder time controlling the amount of vibrato they use, but Meg was perfect. "Castle on a Cloud" was just beautiful, and I really wished the song was longer so I could her sing some more. She doesn't quite act as well as Rachel Schier though. Whereas Rachel is visibly scared and literally shaking with fright and looking like she's about to burst into tears when Mme. Thénardier is coddling Young Eponine, Meg just sort of stood there staring off into space. Part of it may be that I was sitting on the other side of the theatre so I might just not have seen her as well, but still ... I just wasn't as convinced that she was all that frightened.

Norman Large:

He was so much fun to watch. I think the best way to describe his Thénardier is "sleazy". The entire time, he adopted this sneering expression and vocal quality that put a different spin on the character than I've seen before. His dynamic with Jennifer Butt was also quite different than other M. and Mme. Thénardier dynamics I've seen. Particularly in "Waltz of Treachery", she was the one who kept him in line, often by slapping him or smacking him on the arm. (For example, he kept eyeing the money Valjean was offering and just as he would reach for it, she would slap him and glare at him to keep with their charade.) It's clear that she is the boss. "Master of the House" was rather entertaining -- Norman pulled the glasses off of Don Brewer (subbing for Pierce Peter Brandt) thereby rendering him practically blind. He then waved his hand in front of Don's face, and when he got no response, only then did he make off with his bag. He also drew a little more attention to what was going on when he was singing "food beyond compare, food beyond belief" -- namely Michael St. John puking into his bowl, which Norman then took away to pour into the meat grinder and singing "filling up the sausages with this and that". And unlike David Benoit who only pretended to pick his nose and toss it in, Norman actually did stick his finger up his nose for a couple seconds. That was gross!

Then in "Waltz of Treachery", he cradled Young Cosette in his arms and spat in her face before wiping her face clean. Poor Meg (and Rachel when she's on). Then later in that song, at "one thing more, one small doubt ...", Norman grabbed Young Cosette and had her dangling sideways over his arm, which got a great reaction from the audience. He and Jennifer also made the pause before the final consonant at "your intentions may not be corre......ct", which was hilarious. And then in "The Wedding Chorale", when the Thénardiers are introduced, instead of bowing, Norman did this strange plié that hardly looked comfortable. The dropping of the silverware was also reversed this time -- Mme. T dropped hers first (and they had a great sense of timing when reacting by looking down at the silverware and then the ceiling) and then M. T dropped his platter. But instead of kicking it over to Michael Halling like David Benoit did, or even making the feigned gasp like James Chip Leonard did, he immediately grabbed the stick the Major Domo (Charles Hagerty) was holding and cued the orchestra to start up again. That wasn't quite as funny ...

Norman, too, had a couple flubbed lines -- "three percent for looking with the window shut" instead of "sleeping", and then he forgot "who is this hussy?" and just let it hang (but it's possible it was the microphone cutting out).

Jennifer Butt:

Can't really say much that hasn't been said before, but I loved the way she played off Norman Large. Their dynamic was great.

Noah E. Galvin:

Again, don't have anything new to add. Great voice, great acting. He gets shot and dies very convincingly. It was great to see him again.

Melissa Lyons:

I swear, she gets better and better every time I see her. Maybe her acting is a little overdone interacting with Marius in "The Robbery", but just barely. Her voice more than makes up for it. She has one of the best singing voices in the company, and "On My Own" is a prime example of that. I am always floored by her power and how effortless it all is for her. Wow.

Adam Jacobs:

Adam also has been getting better and better. Little by little, his acting is getting more natural and his voice is better, too. If I were to compare some of the scenes he did in this show with the first show I saw with him, it'd be like night and day. Many of his vowels are not as nasal and they're much more resonant.

Nina Negri:

Nina has a lovely voice, but she definitely seems more like a "singer that acts". Her soprano voice is very natural and perhaps even effortless. She was actually able to sing that ridiculously high note at the end of "Every Day" and rather than just barely squeaking it out like just about every other Cosette I've seen or listened to. I was very impressed. The only thing was her acting was a little flat. She did most of the basic things actresses do for Cosette, but she also lacked some of the little nuances that give her character depth. The "Epilogue", though, was really well done. She played off of Roger quite well and pleaded desperately with him not to die. She also was visibly overcome with grief when Valjean died, taking a few moments to recover before unfolding the letter to read. (But then she held the letter really far out in front of her so that both she and Marius could read it, and it looked kind of awkward.)

Michael Halling:

Michael has also much improved since the last time I saw him, and a lot of that has to do with backing off just a little bit with his voice. Because of that, he was able to put a little more dynamic into his singing and it didn't quite sound like he was sing everything full force, and as a result, it didn't sound like was trying to be a one-man opera. But I really love the passion he instills into Enjolras, which has gotten stronger and stronger over the past few weeks.

Miscellaneous notes/observations:

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