|From left, Laurel Hammis, Denyse Clayton, David Clayton, Dan Taylor|
|Matt Schramm, Carly Peil|
Review by Janet I. Martineau
Photos by Kunio Ouellette
"Les Miserables" No. 1 is up and running in the Tri-City community theater realm.
It opened Thursday night at the Bay City Players....and in the near-capacity audience was a contingent of creatives from the Midland Center for the Arts, where "Les Miz" is scheduled to open in late March. Included among them the director and the music conductor.
Hmmmmm....being supportive or running reconnaissance? Or maybe just there to see the Midlanders who were in the cast.
Whatever the case, we wonder if they thought it was a mixed bag, as I did.
There were, to be sure, superb moments in this version directed by Mike Wisniewski with music direction by Sara Taylor.
First and foremost the chorus/ensemble work was outstanding. It was there where some the best singing AND acting surfaced. The factory workers, the street whores, the beggars, the inn customers , in particular the student revolutionaries....their faces were full of emotion, their body English rang true, their singing voices were rich in mini-solos and full ensemble.
With them the production soared.
And it soared with several of the supporting roles.
David Clayton and Denyse Clayton, married in real life, tore up the place as the ribald, uncouth and greedy innkeepers. Granted this is a role that normally steals segments of the show. But these two, acting pros that they are, were diction perfect, full of expressions and movement eye candy, acting as if this awful behavior is second nature to them, totally comfortable in their roles.
So too was...and this was a surprise since he is a newcomer to us...Matt Schramm as Marius, the leader of the student revolutionaries. Schramm, a Presbyterian minister by occupation, has a singing voice to absolutely die for and an equally impressive acting range.
Faced with depicting about every emotion known to man, Schramm delivered all of them equally, as if he were really living the part. His "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" solo was heartbreaking in its raw intensity.
Shawn Penning, a 9th grader, served up a performance beyond his years as the cocky street urchin who joins the revolutionaries. And young Laurel Hammis (no grade or age given) had the right vulnerability as young Cosette down pat and sang with excellent clarity.
Which leaves us the leads -- Dan Taylor as Jean Valjean, Dale Bills as Javert, Jennifer Kennedy as Fantine, Carly Peil as Eponine and Kalie Schnabel as the adult Cosette.
None of them is 100 percent there yet. Close, most of them, but not quite there. Some sang at the full percentage, but were not settled into their characters lock, stock and strong acting barrel (Taylor for one, who hit killer notes throughout). Others were acting at full throttle but there were some singing issues (Peil among them, whose Eponine was spot on but in "On My Own" she undersang it).
This is not to say their performances were bad. In no way were they bad. It's just that they can be better ...and we say that knowing this musical is a minefield.
Other plusses: Sara Taylor and musicians were strong throughout. Choreographer Holly Bills moved this massive cast well and she and the director created attractive tableaus.
Other negatives: The set....the decision to downplay the set and make it minimalist, well, we think it went a little too far in that aspect. The Javert suicide scene did not work. Some of the costuming was questionable. And a couple of sound system issues destroyed moods.