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Saturday, October 26, 2013

CenterStage Exceeds Expectations and Meets the Challenge of “Les Miserables”

Monty Fields and Glenna Godsey as the Thenardiers in Les Miserables.
Photo – CenterStage.

Les Miserables

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Book and Lyrics by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Directed by John R Leffert

A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

Les Miserables is a show that gains one of two reactions: deep guttural groans accompanied by eye rolls at the thought of “dreams of days gone by”; or delightful giddiness at the powerhouse ballads sung with optimum precision by French revolutionaries and peasants. Whatever your own personal feelings may be, Les Miserables, or Les Mis, has reached a level of star power by name alone that exceeds its characters, songs and spectacle. Last night, I was able to see bold performances of the grand musical done with diligence and zeal by local actors at CenterStage.

With elaborate barricades, a turn table stage and full orchestra, this company pulls out all the stops to create a memorable night of theater. And what good is an elaborate production without strong lead actors? Jeremy Moon fits nicely into the shoes of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict weighed by guilt and driven by redemption. Moon’s vocal strength as Valjean builds through “Who Am I?” in the first act to provide an emotional payoff in “Bring Him Home.” Moon’s rendition is beautiful in this second act soliloquy about selflessness and compassion. Having seen Mr. Moon in past productions, “Bring Him Home” is by far his best work.

Josh Gilliam plays the steadfast and morally driven Javert. Gilliam brings force as the authority figure who makes his life a mission to bring justice to Valjean, to the point of obsession. We see Gilliam’s Javert crafting his moral judgments against the ex-convict with ”Stars,” a song that shapes the character and shows off Gilliam’s fine baritone. Other standout performances belong to Jill Higginbotham as Fantine. Even though her character meets tragic end very early in the play, Higginbotham brings a fierce portrayal that adds to the strength of the overall piece. Lauren McCombs is the lonely heartsick tomboy Eponine, who shines brightly in “On My Own.”

Without a doubt, Monty Fields and Glenna Godsey, as the disgustingly grotesque Thenardiers, steal each and every scene they inhabit. With dirty faces, Fields and Godsey embrace their underling characters and have fun doing so. As Marius, Jordan Price is a dreamy romantic who shares lovely chemistry with Margo Wooldridge as Cosette. His band of students, including Mike Fryman as Enjorlas, harmonize beautifully in “Red and Black” and “Drink With Me.” With every production of Les Mis that I have seen, the dashing student rebels breathe new life into the epic by the end of the first act. Make no mistake that at CenterStage, Fryman, Price and their young comrades do likewise.

This production comes with very heavy expectations. As Artistic Director John L. Leffert states in his curtain speech, Les Mis is the “biggest endeavor the company has ever done.” With that in mind, clunky set changes and faulty sound systems are easily forgivable when the overall production not only matches expectations but exceeds them abundantly.

Les Miserables

October 24-November 10, 2013
CenterStage at JCC
Linker Auditorium
3600 Dutchmans Lane
Louisville, KY 40205
502-238-2739



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