The production of LES MISERABLES currently running at the 1000 Islands Playhouse proves that you don't need a lot of theatrical "stuff" to tell a good story. One thing you do need is powerful singers, and those this production has in spades. Based on the Victor Hugo novel the musical, better known these days as LES MIS, is set in the years leading up to the Paris student uprising of 1832.
Originally written in French by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg with English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, LES MIS is an epic story in the grand French style, repeatedly making the points that humans are cruel to each other and that forgiveness and love can reform character. The score is sung-through, and some consider it an opera.
Greg Wanless and Gillian Gallow have designed a unit set with an upstage upper platform and two sets of stairs that can be used in various positions. Miss Gallow has designed projections for the area above the upper platform that are extremely effective, while the dramatic lighting by Adair Redish contributes to changes of mood.
Dennis Horn has done a wonderful job with the huge number of costumes. The wigs look great, especially those for the ladies of the evening and the two that look like hats are obviously supposed to.
Musical Director Sandy Thorburn has done a terrific job of arranging so that the six expert musicians sound like at least fifteen. Once again the singers are not miked and when the entire cast sings together, as in the Act I Finale, it's a wonder the roof doesn't fly off. The ensemble diction is also very good. Mr. Thorburn contends very well with the bane of Musical Directors. The orchestra is behind a scrim upstage of the set, so the actors are unable to see the Conductor. In this case it never affects the cohesiveness of the music.
The child performers are double cast and the three I saw, Carolyn Beck as Gavroche, Kiana Gouveia as Young Cosette and Camille Hicks as Young Eponine were all fine, although a bit difficult to hear. Ashley Taylor does a nice job as Cosette as does Derrick Paul Miller as the Bishop.
As Fantine Shannon Barnett's voice is a bit edgy for the role, but she does an excellent acting job. Marcia Tratt as M. Thenardier seems to have some diction problems in Act I although she's just fine in Act II.
As for Shane Carty as Javert and Lee Siegal as Jean Valjean, they're both powerhouse singers. However it seems to me their concentration is on their voices and the rests in the music are left unfilled. Without character complexity and subtext, even "Stars" and "Bring Him Home" lack dramatic intensity.
On the other hand, Dale R. Miller as Marius and Ramona Gilmour-Darling as Eponine do a nice job with both the acting and the singing. The know how to maintain character through long musical phrases. Their solos are believable and the death scene is very affecting.
For me the cast stand-out is Kevin Power as Thenardier. He's terrific in the role and every syllable is distinct. He made my skin crawl in the sewer scene and is wonderful in the Wedding.
Director Greg Wanless and Choreographer Kiri-Lyn Muir have done a fine job of staging LES MIS. As I said earlier you don't need special effects, although the synopsis in the program is helpful in keeping track of this sprawling story. I might have hoped for more emphasis on the dramatic aspect, but in the end LES MIS is about the music.
On a scale of one to five the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of LES MISERABLES gets four and one third fish. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.