Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic
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Les Miserables @ Stage 1 Review

Last night I joined a standing room only audience at Newark, CA's Memorial High School theater to see Stage 1's Les Miserables. Before I start to nitpick, so that you don't get the wrong idea, I was one of the first ones up and one of the last to stop applauding during the 7-minute standing ovation.

Non-spoilers first:
There are about 50 people in the cast. I counted more than 60 names in the program, but some of those played more than one part. It is very hard to costume that many people, each of whom had at least 3 costume changes. Unfortunately, it showed. Costumes were mostly adequate, few were more, most were less. Javert was cheated out of what should have been progressively ornate uniforms, wearing a greatcoat for his last two iterations. That was a FAIL. Valjean wore pretty much the same thing throughout. Cosette's dresses were atrocious. The only example of planned costuming was the matching dresses for all the woman in the factory scene, a symptom of making the costumes in the order that the show takes place. Police & army uniforms were far from authentic period or
complete.

The director blew it on several levels. Blocking was like a children's pageant, one long line across the stage, no groupings, no levels, boring.

The program lists a choreographer, but I saw no choreography. Not that there needed to be, it isn't that kind of musical. Javert and Valjean fight hand to hand, very poorly staged, could have used a fight choreographer.

Audio. Every member of the cast was wearing a horribly apparent mike, glued to the forehead, with the wire coming up the back and loosely over the head. Disgustingly distracting. And while the sound was clear and totally feedback-free, it was also non-directional, and the way the show was directed, it was hard to tell in the group scenes who was singing. FAIL.

Orchestra. It's a difficult score. On the whole they did well, but as the show wore on, the oboe and first violin went out of tune, and because the conductor only conducted the orchestra and ignored the actors, there were several missed cues on stage, and times when leads had to rush to get together with the orchestra. I was also a bit put off by the conductor having the orchestra take a bow before the start of the second act. That's not the etiquette I was brought up with.

Set. There was not much of one. Just a backdrop which never changed, even though the scene changed. The barricade was a clever construction in two parts, half rolled in from stage left and the other from stage right, with stage hands inside it hidden by a burlap flap. Once onstage it bolted together. It was able to rotate. That was well done.

Lighting. The theater has minimal lighting facilities, they did what they could. The follow spot operator was spot on.

The cast. Lots of people on stage all at once a couple of times. Almost everyone had at least one solo singing line. Every voice I heard was professional-grade. Quite amazing.

Dean Christman as Jean Valjean was very good, it is a grueling part and he survived it well. His voice cracked several times, and his rendition of his final scene was a bit uninspiring.

Jess Martinez nailed it as Javert. Extraordinary combination of voice, acting skills and attitude. He played a heroic upholder of the law, not a Bad Guy™.

Ben Decker as the Bishop did well in this small but critical role.

As Fantine, Kristen Del Rio was adequate. The craptastic costumes and wigs did not help.

Piper Sperske as Little Cosette was very cute until she started to sing, and then she was transformed into a little girl who could use some age-appropriate voice lessons.

Diminutive Elmer Strasser played the part of Thenardier as a sleezy little twerp, reminded me of Fagin, but without the sense of majesty. He was very, very good, I wanted to throttle him every time he appeared. The Mrs., played by the very large Belinda Maloney, was a superb foil. Both of them would have benefited from competent costuming.

Young Eponine was a total WTF, partly because of a lack of talent, and partly because of something in the spoilers section.

Nico Duchez nailed it as Gavroche, he did so well that I didn't recognize him - even though we had just done Brigadoon together and he was paired with me in a lot of the stage schtick. He has grown. But also he was allowed to act. I forgot how clear his voice is. Part of not recognizing him is he is billed as Nickolas in the program.

Eponine is played by a high school junior named Angela Busgano. She was ever so close to perfect, just a couple of vocal snags away. And maybe a couple more major acting roles under her belt, too.

Robert Lopez was okay as Marius, a little wooden acting but great vocals.

And Brian Palac got to show off his voice but not his acting skills as Enjolras. I have seen him a few times, he is better than this, but woefully mis-cast.

Final ding is for Cara Wodka playing Cosette. Kinda like watching a puppet. Great voice, but when she goes to dialog there is no way I am believing she is in love.

[Spoiler (click to open)]
So, some spoilers. During the chain gang scene, they cut the part where Valjean shows his super-human strength, which ruins the follow-up where Javert recognizes the guy who pulls the cart off of the man it fell on. To add to the mistake, they have Valjean struggle mightily to raise the wagon just enough for the victim to be pulled out from under - and immediately two cast members grab a handle and right the thing easily to roll it offstage. Completely destroys this critical plot device.

They cut most of the violence against Fantine, which makes it unbelievable that she is suddenly in the hospital on death's door. Again, fight choreography could have saved this scene.

Little Eponine is white as an aspirin, she is in a curly wig, and is as Caucasian as can be. Grown-up Eponine is Asian, with dark skin and straight silky hair. Little Eponine is apparently a relative (daughter or granddaughter) of the Bishop. Non-traditional casting is one thing, (Lea Salonga is my favorite Broadway Eponine) but this was a FAIL.

What makes Brian Palac mis-cast is he is about 5 feet tall, and very slightly built. Not the image of a Great Leader. But also his acting was many stops short of firebrand.

In the Eponine death scene, she has been shot, the script says she is covered in blood. It's in Marius' lines as he holds her. We can see her white blouse when her coat opens. It would have been so easy for the blouse under the coat to have been blotched with red. The white blouse transported the scene from 7 Kleenex to maybe 1.5.


I'll leave it there. Despite the little failings, it is still worth making a trip across the Bay to see. It runs one more weekend.

Les Miserables
Stage 1 Theatre
Newark Memorial High School
Newark, CA
Link here.
Tags: review, theater
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