May 25, 2008
Experience a musical phenomenon with Les Miserables at the Walnut Street Theatre
Theater: Walnut Street Theatre
Show: Les Miserables
Seen: May 21, 2008
Opened: May 13,2008
Submitted: May 25, 2008
Reviewer: Dawn Cowle
Ok, I'll admit it. I'm a virgin. A Les Miserables virgin. I've never seen a live production, or a concert version, and can count on one hand the number of times I've listened to the soundtrack. So on Wednesday night when the curtain went up at the Walnut St. Theatre, I was experiencing for the first time what so many others had experienced before… a musical theatre phenomenon. And all I can say it, I'm so glad the Walnut's production was my first.
Les Miserables follows the story of Jean Valjean over the course of seventeen years as he dedicates his life to redeeming himself from his convict past all while running from Inspector Javert whose made it his life's mission to track him down. Hugh Panaro's passionate portrayal of Valjean is an intense one; his rich, multi-octave voice fills the large house with great ease, and his rendition of "Bring Him Home" sends chills up the spine. As Javert, Paul Schoffler nails the character's stiffness and dedication to getting the job done, but lacks the religious zeal and righteousness that makes "Stars" such a climatic moment for that character. Josh Young gives a beautifully subtle performance as Marius and it seems as though 'Empty Chairs and Empty Tables' was written just for him.
Though a male dominated show, the women definitely hold their own. Christina DiCicco as Eponine gives a genuinely touching portrayal of a young girl in love, struggling for her place in the world. Gianna Bruzzese as young Cosette gives a chilling and saddening "Castle on a Cloud," and Julie Craig shows a refreshing level of maturity as the grown Cosette.
On the supporting cast front: Scott Greer and Dawn Spence are unstoppable as the scheming Thenardiers, and Spence evokes a Mrs. Lovett-like quality that brings an extra level of dementia (and comedy) to the character. Jeffrey Coon as Enjolras the revolutionary leads the other students in a rousing rendition of Red & Black that makes you want to get up and fight the good fight with them. Peter Schmitz's Bishop is wonderfully compassionate, and his turn as a "Lovely Lady' is a funny little bit.
Mark Clements re-imagined version of the "world's most popular musical" has a uniquely cinematic feel; each scene is framed like a movie still that comes to life before your eyes. He uses the ensemble brilliantly, playing up the strengths of each member, and carefully crafting each moment to allow someone to shine. I give him credit for choosing to forgo the infamous turntable; Clement's version focuses more on the story and journey of the characters rather than the dazzle and spectacle that wowed Broadway more than 20 years ago. That's not to say Todd Ivins' set isn't impressive, because it is- from the dingy streets of Paris to the barricade, Ivins manages to create an impressive and detailed world that so many already know. Colleen Grady's costumes and Jeff Nellis' lighting also deserves noteworthy mention as both are remarkable.
Whether you're a long time Les Mis fanatic, or a newbie such as myself, the Walnut's phenomenal production is not to be missed. And with it playing until August 3rd you'll have plenty of chances to catch it when you're not at the Shore.