Coronado, CA—“Les Misérables” is based on the Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel and was put to music on a grand scale, (some might even call it opera) by Claude-Michael Schönberg with Herbert Kretzmer’s lyrics and book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michael Schöenberg and adapted by Trevor Nunn and John Caird. It opened on Broadway in 1987.
Set in 19th century France it traces the story of Jean Valjean prisoner 24601 jailed for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. In 2011 it celebrated its 25th birthday and is still going strong.
Over the years it has been translated into 22 languages and has played in over 42 countries. It is a big production involving, on a national level, approximately 101overall cast and crew, (front and back of house) 392 costumes, 85 wigs and the list goes on.
However some things changed in translation from big Broadway production to up close and personal Lamb’s Players Theatre. In the words of little Gavroche (Scotty Atienza) the young street urchin, in Lamb’s Players production, when he sings so appropriately, “Little People”: And little people know When little people fight We may look easy pickings But we’ve got some bite So never kick a dog Because he’s just a pup We’ll fight like twenty armies And we won’t give up So you’d better run for cover When the pup grows up!
Hats off artistic director Robert Smyth and his Lamb’s Players Theatre, now celebrating 42 years of producing, for having the courage and fortitude to mount this huge project on his rather limited and intimate stage, with all local talent (his words) and pulling it off without missing a beat, and… to a standing ovation from an appreciative and touched audience. Not a dry eye was to be found on opening night. The musical has been extended to play through Sept. 28th. It’s a must see.
“Les Miz” has been polished and in this instance, reduced and cut (and left with a few dots not connected), but still retains its integrity as a voice for the ‘underdog’, the poor, the subservient; those individuals who make valiant sacrifices and give life and limb for what they believe. It’s a story driven by love, determination, redemption and hope.
This epic musical journey defines the characters while still keeping in tact those favorite hits that run through your brain when you least expect it: “I Dreamed a Dream”, “Who Am I?” “Drink With Me”, “On My Own”, “Bring Him Home”, “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”, “Master of the House”, “Look Down” and who can forget “One More Day”?
While some changes will not be apparent, especially to the next generation of Les Miz audiences, the casts of characters and the plots and sub plots have remained unchanged. Director Smyth keeps things at a fast pace, with scene changes taking place right in front of eyes as the cast tackles the task of moving the pile of appropriate parts of furniture (piled up like a puzzle) from the ominous looking odd bits stacked in the background (Mike Buckley) to create a new time and place.
Characters disappear into curtain-draped doors or appear at windows on high. They pop up and depart in between open spaces in the furniture structure or what will become the barricades. On high in the background Chuck Elledge and his streamline orchestra of nine talented musicians, pump the familiar tunes out in full force, sounding much fuller than might be expected. Gordon Lacy is credited with musical direction.
The fanatic Inspector Javert (Randall Dodge) is still on a quest to put his errant, on the run prisoner Jean Valjean (Brandon Joel Maier) back on the chain gang. Valjean, who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, loses his bitterness after the Bishop of Dinge (Christopher Lesson) shows him more kindness than anyone on the streets of Digne. But not so much with Javert, whose quest is interminable.
On his way to finding his moral compass and almost becoming a saintly creature, Valjean changes his name, and begins life anew. He befriends the beautiful but sickly Fantine (Kelsey Venter is blessed with a lovely voice and saintly appearance), and agrees to take care of and raise her daughter Cosette (Charlene Koepf is the adult Cosette and Hourie Klijian played her as a child…both drew well earned applause), which he did after buying her back from the grimy, grungy con- artists the Thénardier’s, the couple looking after the child while she worked. (“Castle In The Clouds”)
Comics Neil Dale and hysterically over the top Deborah Gilmour Smyth bring the house down especially dressed in Jeanne Barnes Reith’s really bad taste frocks and outfitted in Coni’s Wig and Wig Creations that must have taken all their talents to create. Carlos Mendoza’s choreography finishes off the look watching the two strut, kick and just be damned pleased with themselves after finishing a rousing “Master Of The House”.
Time passes and no matter how hard the over protective Valjean tries to keep Cosette tucked away in their estate, she manages to meet and fall in love with Marius (Jesse Abeel is perfect in the lead as the lovelorn student taking part in the June Rebellion of 1832 against the monarchs). Unfortunately they were outnumbered and most died in battle. (“Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”)
Complicating things Éponine (Allie Trimm, “A Little Fall of Rain”) is in love with Marius as well, but he considers her a friend rather than lover. She betrays her greedy innkeeper parents, the Thénardiers and fights along side the students where all is fair in love and war. (“On My Own”)
And while the battle rages on, on the home front, the battle between what is right and what is good and saintly rages on between the two protagonists; both believing that God is on his side. It all makes for one powerful, passionate and gut wrenching (yes I did shed a tear or two) three hours of entertainment.
No question, this reviewer has seen many versions of “Les Miz” over the years, and that’s including the god-awful movie, the 25th anniversary show and listening to the sound track. Never have I been so impressed with the overall quality and consistency of the entire cast from the youngest Hourie Klijian and Scotty Atienza to the absolute gorgeous and heartfelt performance of tenor Brandon Joel Maier as Valjean, and the lovely Christine Koepf (“In My Life”) than I have with this undertaking.
Maier transforms from prisoner 24601to mayor, father and hero and to deathbed seamlessly managing to age slowly, gently and effortlessly while staying in character. (“Bring Him Home” is simply heartbreaking).
For his commanding portrayal of Inspector Javert, Randall Dodge does not disappoint, but the volume on his mike might have been toned down a bit. His powerful and carefully controlled bass baritone voice is so strong that I wonder if it needs to be amplified in the smaller more intimate Lamb’s space.
Excellent support also comes from a dedicated and solid ensemble: Jacob Caltrider, Jessica Couto, Noah Fish, Caitie Grady, Kürt Norby, Brandon Sherman, Kyrsten Hafso-Koppman, Christopher Lesson and the outstanding Jordan Miller as Enjolras the radical student revolutionary, who blew me away with his amazing operatic tenor voice in “Do You Hear The People Sing?”
With the help of over a dozen seamstresses and sewers in the costume shop, craftsmen in the scenic shop and the expertise of lighting designer Nathan Peirson who nails the spots we need to be watching, sound designer Patrick Duffy and Jesse Abeel’s makeup designs, this is one “Les Miserable” that San Diegans will be touting for some time. Smaller theatres do make a difference just like the little people.
You will not be disappointed.
See you a the theatre
Dates: Through Sept. 28th.
Organization: Lamb’s Players Theatre
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado, CA 92118
Ticket Prices: $32.00-$82.00
Venue: Coronado Playhouse