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Review of Les Misérables

Sunday, July 24, 2005 at 2:00pm
Curran Theatre
San Francisco, CA

::sniff:: This was the final show of the San Francisco run. I guess seven weeks is quite a long time for a tour to be in one place, at least relative to the amount of time they spend in most other cities, but I really would have liked to have had the extension to go through into August. Even though I've seen it so many times, it's shows like today's and last night's that make me realize I haven't seen it enough.

(I will probably include a few remarks about yesterday evening's show if they are relevant. And because this was the final show of this run, I will also recapitulate some general remarks for the regulars.)

The cast:

Jean Valjean David Michael Felty * 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 Kevin David Thomas **
M. Thénardier Norman Large Cosette Leslie Henstock

Rest of cast in order of appearance:

Farmer Roger Seyer Montparnasse Kip Driver
The Bishop of Digne Michael St. John Babet Don Brewer ****
Constables Don Brewer ****, James Chip Leonard Brujon Randy Glass ***
Foreman Pierce Peter Brandt Claquesous James Chip Leonard
Factory Girl Kelly McCormick Combeferre Pierce Peter Brandt
Sailors Don Brewer ****, Eric Briarley, Charles Hagerty Feuilly Eric Briarley
Old Woman (locket) Karen Elliot Courfeyrac Roger Seyer
Crone (hair) Nina Negri Joly Charles Hagerty
Pimp James Chip Leonard Grantaire Trent Blanton
Bamatabois Trent Blanton Lesgles Michael St. John
Fauchelevant James Chip Leonard Jean Prouvaire   Ryan Williams
Old Beggar Woman ("Look Down")   Marnie Nicolella   Major Domo Charles Hagerty
Young Prostitute Lisa Morris *****

* David Michael Felty understudied for Valjean
** Kevin David Thomas understudied for Marius
*** Randy Glass replaces roles usually played by David Michael Felty
**** Don Brewer replaces roles usually played by Kevin David Thomas
***** Lisa Morris replaces roles usually played by Carrie A. Johnson

Randal Keith was supposed to be on today, and it wasn't until 10 minutes before curtain that David Michael Felty was informed that he was going to go on as Valjean. (I found out after the show that Randal's back was in too much pain. Poor guy.) Funnily enough, Felty admitted that he'd shaven much of his beard because he didn't think he was going to have to go on as Valjean.

David Michael Felty:

He had yet another very different take on Valjean, which provided wonderful contrast to those of Randal Keith and Roger Seyer. In the first few scenes (most notably in "Valjean's Soliloquy"), he made use of the brand on his chest as a physical representation of the years spent in the chain gang. That was a nice touch. He also showed quite a bit more anger at the injustice of it all (at least more than Randal does ... Roger's performance is already getting fuzzy for me) -- he did a similar angry splash at the water he was drinking from that Roger did in the "Prologue". Then in "Valjean's Soliloquy" he literally yelled "ONE WORD FROM HIM and I'd be back" which gave me quite a startle, and I can't decide if I like it or not. But the rest of that scene was absolutely amazing. Even Randal never quite was able to move me that much in that scene, but watching Felty, I was so overcome by his deep remorse and his determination to turn his life around. It was the first of many times I was close to tears in this performance.

(And I think it's a bit strange that I'm referring to him as "Felty" while I refer to Randal by his first name -- but it's just a matter of having more familiarity with Randal.)

He played off Joan Almedilla quite well in "Come to Me (Fantine's Death)". It was just all in his body language that tells how devoted he was to adopting Cosette to raise as his own, and how much he wanted to comfort Fantine -- he held her very close, and even after she died (during "The Confrontation"), he repeatedly went back to place his hands over hers, as if to comfort her in her afterlife.

I remember making a mental note yesterday that Randal was unusually more angry at Cosette for her demanding to know their pasts, and I'm a little surprised Felty wasn't quite that way. He was defiant, certainly, but given how much more rough of a Valjean his portrayal is, I expected a similar reaction from him. But at the same time, I can also see how his demeanor would have softened over the years while raising Cosette.

Vocally, he was very good. His voice fits the role well, and he can sing the entire range of Valjean's role with quite a bit of strength. As mentioned above, "Valjean's Soliloquy" was just fabulous, as was "Who am I?", but the real test was "Bring Him Home" -- and he didn't disappoint. He was able to project a sense of delicate grace without sounding weak (though there were several places where the notes seemed a bit of a stretch), and he sent chills down my back with his ability to really power out other parts of the song. He received a resounding and very long ovation -- he deserved it.

One very obvious flub -- in "Valjean's Soliloquy", the line is "and have I fallen so far, and is the hour so late?" but it came out "and is the hour so late, and is the hour so far". Thankfully, I didn't find it as funny during the show as I did afterwards because I would have been unable to stop laughing at the oddity of the way it came out. It doesn't make sense and it doesn't rhyme with the lines that follow. The other place that could be seen as a struggle was when Valjean drags Marius through the sewers -- it took them a lot longer to go through all the transitions between Felty carrying Kevin David Thomas and dragging him that they didn't quite make it to where they were supposed to be for the start of "The Sewers". Instead of the lights coming on to reveal them in their places, Felty was still in the process of getting to his spot when the lights came on.

Robert Hunt:

What I love about Robert is that nothing he does is ever anything less than 100%. In every performance I've seen of him (and I think it's five times now), he gives himself completely to the role of Javert, and as a result, he is an amazing presence on stage. His suicide is always incredibly breathtaking, in the sense that he comes across as completely frantic and almost hysterical, yet it completely fits in with the way he portrays Javert in the rest of the show. He is persistent and uncompromising until just before his soliloquy and suicide, when he really has no other choice than to let Valjean go to get Marius help.

Joan Almedilla:

After seeing her almost painfully dull performance last night, I was afraid today's would be, too. But thankfully she shook whatever daze she was in and actually acted today. I still am bothered by her inability to belt, but that aside, she did fairly well. Perhaps some acting choices weren't what I would have chosen, but others worked. In "I Dreamed a Dream" she kissed her locket at "He slept a summer by my side" and she looked and sounded defeated by the end of that song. "Come to Me" is where she is at her best, and I still think her death is the best I've seen.

Rachel Schier:

I was happy to see Rachel as Young Cosette to close the show. She has a way of singing "Castle on a Cloud" that is just so sad and the way she goes about it, it works perfectly that her singing is not all that strong. But her acting is really amazing for her young age of 8. Just the expression on her face as she is struggling to hold the water bucket, trembling in fear, and about to burst into tears -- it was so heartbreaking that she made me want burst into tears .

She was smiling a lot for most of "Waltz of Treachery" though, and I'm not sure how well it fits in just yet. But she probably couldn't help but laugh after Norman had her dangling upside down from his arm. That is still too hilarious.

Norman Large:

I laugh so much when I see this guy. He has such a good sense of timing and what works with the audience. He manages to find more ways to make his Thénardier come across as not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, and I don't think he could contort his face into a sneer any more than he already does. As with yesterday's show, I got a huge kick out of "three percent for looking in the mirror twice" where he very clearly held up two fingers. It was hard to see from the right side of the theatre where I was sitting this time, but I knew he was doing it. I started cracking up and I think the other people in my box were confused as to what I'd found so funny. Also like yesterday, he grabbed Rachel and had her dangling upside-down from his arm (and it's a good thing her back was facing us because her top had pretty much flipped over her head). He also added his own twist to the end of "The Wedding Chorale" -- after dropping the platter, he grabbed the stick from the Major Domo (today it was Charlie Hagerty, yesterday it was Don Brewer I think), banged it on the floor a couple times, and instead of cuing the orchestra conductor himself, he grabbed the Major Domo's hand and moved his hand for him to cue the orchestra. Ha ha.

It seems that different actors have different ways of reacting to the money Valjean has given them in "Waltz of Treachery" -- at least that's true for David Benoit, James Chip Leonard, and Norman Large. In all cases, Jennifer would leap on their back, but David would yell "Get off me, you little whore!", Chip would yell something that I couldn't make out but had something to do with "you little piggy" maybe, and yesterday and today Norman let out this loud "Ohhhhh! ... Ahhh!!" and bounced up and down with Jennifer on his back -- as if he was turned on by it all.

Jennifer Butt:

Scary, scary woman. But in a funny way. As always. There is no one better for this role than the actress who originated this role almost 17 years ago on Broadway.

Sean Gilbert:

Sean has much improved since I first saw him last year, in terms of singing and acting. But there's still room for improvement, particularly in his death scene. He still looks like he's jumping up to fall over the stuffed dead body, so it doesn't look too believable. But to his credit, his interaction with Javert in "Little People" was entertaining as usual. What spunk.

But poor kid -- he missed tossing the bullet bag to Enjolras (and he was WAY off, too, which got a pained "aww" reaction from the audience). And it still frustrates me the way they fire the gun in his death scene. It absolutely wrecks the scene to have people giggling because they were startled by the gun (and this audience had a LOT of gigglers). I actually even noticed a few of the orchestra members covering their ears. I guess even they never get used to it.

Melissa Lyons:

Melissa's voice was a little rough around the edges yesterday, but whatever it was, it was gone today. Her voice was at about the best I've heard from her, and again, "On My Own" was the highlight of her performance. I do have to admit, though -- I am growing a little tired (just a little) of the giggly-flirty routine she gives Eponine when she's around Marius. I remember noting not liking that aspect of her portrayal when I first saw her in Los Angeles, and I still don't, but I've just been kind of putting up with it. The other thing I've tried to put up with is how when she's not being flirty with Marius, she invariably sounds something like a cross between whiney, pouty and weepy. It works in some places, but it was a bit too prevalent in her portrayal. The "oh, pity me" routine gets old.

BUT: Melissa still has probably the best voice I've heard as far as Eponines go, so that kind of makes up for the somewhat contrived acting.

Kevin David Thomas:

In short, Kevin was a decent Marius. He sang fairly well and did all of the standard stuff you'd expect from Marius, but he certainly didn't do anything unique to set himself apart from others who have done this role. However, he did a very moving "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" that I really enjoyed (and I was the one who started the applause for that because I couldn't let that to go by without the recognition he deserved). This is almost the opposite of Charlie Hagerty's Marius last night -- Charlie gave his Marius a LOT of depth everywhere else but was rather flat in ECAET.

Overall, his voice was adequate but he doesn't have nearly the strength that Adam Jacobs has or even Charlie, except for ECAET which was his highlight of the show. But in "Every Day" and "The Wedding Chorale", it almost sounded like his voice had been exhausted by the effort and wasn't quite as steady.

Leslie Henstock:

I mentioned this in my random comments on my LJ post, but I feel the need to reiterate it here -- I can so much more appreciate Leslie's portrayal of Cosette after seeing both Nina Negri and Ashley Fox Linton. That isn't to say the understudies were bad (because they both had appreciable strengths in their portrayals) but it made me more aware of the little nuances Leslie gives the role. (And also, having sat house right today, I've come to the conclusion that you really do have to sit house left to see all of Leslie's expressions and movements.)

I love the way Leslie's Cosette is so youthful, yet still able to laugh at herself, then goes to just about bursting with excitement as she runs to the gate at "Does he know I'm alive? Do I know if he's real?" And then when Valjean arrives, she sits with her back to him and is silently giggling to herself. It's very cute. She also interacts with Valjean with such a strong determination to get out of him some hint of their pasts that she doesn't come across as wishy-washy as I usually think of Cosette. I think Randal fed off of that, thus his more angry refusal to tell her what she wants to know (as mentioned above), while Felty seemed as if he wanted to drop the subject a little less forcefully.

Sitting over on the right side of the theatre, though, did allow me to see Leslie's facial expressions during the "Epilogue", which I wasn't able to see the night before, and just that was enough to bring me to tears -- her desperate pleading for Valjean not to die, then the devastation on her face when Valjean finally goes limp, and what really did it for me was the way she reacted to Valjean's letter of confession. Sitting on the left side the night before, I actually could see tears running down her face. Wow. Such sincere acting.

Michael Halling:

Michael Halling has come so far in just the past couple months. It seems that with every performance, he finds a new unexplored corner of Enjolras' character. I realized this just now, but really comes across as a great leader. Thinking back to other actors portraying Enjolras, I know one or two of them did not come anywhere as close to how well Michael does it. Part of it comes naturally with being really tall (how tall is he???), but a big part of it comes from the way he is able to rally the students together, to arouse their hunger for social justice, and to remember what it is they are fighting for. Never does he let them forget that. Michael delivers some of his lines to the audience (e.g. "Let us die facing our foes, make them bleed while we can!") which in almost any other case would be seen as artificial and contrived, but because his Enjolras is already so strong a leader, it actually works quite well.

An example of a new thing he tried today was during "Red and Black", right after Marius was gushing about his encounter with Cosette -- Michael literally leapt over the chair that was sitting between them to get to Marius to sing (or more like shouted) "MARIUS! you're not longer a child ..." It was quite a bit surprising and I had suppress the urge to giggle for a while after that. I really don't think that works.

I was also curious about what he was going to do with Grantaire after Grantaire's solo in "Drink With Me". Unfortunately, from the angle where I was sitting, he was blocking my view of Grantaire and all I could see was Michael's back. The only thing I could see for sure was that Michael grabbed Trent's arm angrily, briefly exchanged a few words, before standing up to walk away. And in the time following that, Michael would throw him a few angry glares.

Michael plays around with different emphasis on various lines with each show, and sometimes they strike me as overdone. (Example: "Come on my friends, hold yourselves in readiness" or "Let us not waste lives!") But today, everything seemed to work quite well, although I wish he'd done "Damn their warnings, damn their lies!" because I rather like that. But he did yell "Let others rise to take our place, until the earth is FREEEEE!" It was almost chilling.

Miscellaneous notes/observations:

New comments (mostly minor things that I remember making a mental note of):

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