Friday, March 21, 2014

"Les Miserables" hits home run at Midland Center for Arts

Review by Janet I. Martineau

Alrighty Midland Center for the Arts... bravo, bravo, bravo on your barricade for the musical "Les Miserables," which opened Friday night. It was as clever as heck, and we just didn't see it coming.

Mum is the word though. Not going to say anymore about it because seeing it in action is part of the fun – maybe all of the fun. Very impressive.

Bravo, too, on the staging of Javert's death plunge. Hope the actor in that role is OK. It looked a little too real. The massive set was appealing to the eye with its various levels, especially the trap doors leading underground.  And the gunfire was rip-snorting loud and flash-filled.

But enough about the detail-rich look of this show because director Carol Rumba has hit a home run when it comes to the cast ... all 58 of them, ranging in age from 4 to 72. Imagine overseeing and corralling something of that breadth, the majority of them amateurs.

Things did get off to a slightly sluggish beginning Friday night, but it just kept building and building like a steam engine heading down the track until you realized somewhere along the way you were witnessing one of best musicals ever at the Midland Center for the Arts.

There is no way a review can do justice to all 58 people in the cast. Suffice it to say that yes there standouts, and I will discuss them, but this is an ensemble piece bar none with a chorus to die for.

From start to finish Rumba  created various attractive tableaus with her cast members, and they stayed in character solidly in them; sometimes in the shadows when the action was taking place and was lit on another part of the stage. And the chorus dynamics just rocked the place.

Ten members in particular caught our attention: Dominic Zoeller as the hero Jean Valjean, True Rogers the thug Javert, John Saint Jones as the bishop, Laura Brigham as the dying Fantine, Madeline Day as the ignored Eponine, Celeste Lang as the lovely   Cosette, Tony Serra as the student leader Enjolras, Matt Fox as the love struck Marius, Jamie Miller as the tiny revolutionary warrior Gavroche, and Ruth Pasek as Little Cosette.

Zoeller nicely captured the aging process, starting as a young man and ending as a feeble old man. Day knows how to totally sell a song emotionally and dramatically. And all 10 of them delivered goosebumpy singing and heart-tugging acting.

Behind the scenes, kudos to scenic designers Evan Lewis and Kristen O'Connor for the whole look of the show, not just the barricade; costume coordinator Laurelei Horton for the wealth of costuming, dressy and slummy; lighting designer Matt Kidwell, for those moody shadows, and Jim Hohmeyer and his glorious orchestra.

Some of the set changes were a little clumsy and noisy, but that was but a small glitch in the three-hour show that delivered in abundance.

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