Do You Hear the People Sing?
The classic story turned epic musical has finally made its way to Grand Bend’s Huron Country Playhouse. Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables follows the life of prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean, who was thrown in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for a hungry child.
When he breaks his parole, Valjean is relentlessly pursued by the ruthless Inspector Javert, even though he turns his life around, and becomes a successful businessman and mayor. He promises Fantine, who is dying, that he will raise her daughter, removing the child, Cosette, from the evil innkeeper, Thenardier and his wife.
Years later, students take to the street in a government protest, and Cosette falls in love with Marius. But Eponine, a girl of the streets and daughter of the Thenardiers, is also in love with Marius, until she is killed in the uprising. Valjean goes the barricade to keep Marius safe during the revolt. Javert, who is shown mercy by Valjean, commits suicide. Marius recovers from his injuries, and marries Cosette. He learns that it was Valjean that saved his life. Valjean has been living as a recluse, not wanting to embarrass Cosette because he was a former convict. Cosette and Marius are reunited with Valjean in his dying moments.
Although the plot may sound convoluted, the musical story is revealed through song. The right cast can make the story come clear and leave the audience in awe of the rich score as the plot unfolds. Drayton Entertainment’s Artistic Director Alex Mustakas has assembled an excellent cast with stellar voices – they do justice to this epic tale. Credit goes to musical director Robert Foster for filling the theatre with sound.
David Rogers is playing the role he was meant to play – Jean Valjean. This is the perfect protagonist, it allows Rogers to show the broad range of his voice. After performing lead roles in Phantom of the Opera, Rogers moves effortlessly into Les Misérables. A long-time favourite of Huron Country Playhouse, it is especially gratifying to see him back on the Grand Bend stage. An amazing performer, Rogers is also co-artistic director of Victoria Playhouse Petrolia.
His rendition of “Who am I” establishes Valjean’s anguish, and later he sings the emotional signature song, “Bring Him Home”. Rogers sings effortlessly, his voice in perfect form, guaranteed to stir emotions.
Lee Siegel resumes his role as Javert in Grand Bend. Previously, when the show played in Cambridge, Siegel had an injury and had to be replaced. He carries a walking stick, which is befitting his stature as an important officer of the law, and his slight limp makes his larger-than-life character even more menacing. While he may be having some trouble with his walk, his voice is in perfect form. Siegel sings “Stars” and “Soliloquy” better than I have ever heard. With Siegel’s Javert, we know his world is shaken. He firmly believes in the letter of the law, and can’t comprehend the concept of mercy. He simply cannot accept that extenuating circumstances might make a difference and when that realization hits, he ends his life.
Ma-Anne Dionisio is perfect reprising her role as Eponine, which she had previously had in international and U.S. tours. Her heart-felt ballad of unrequited love “On My Own” is a show-stopper. She reveals her anguish as she helps the man she loves further his romance with someone else.
The role of Marius offers David Cotton an opportunity to show his great vocal range. His lament “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” about the deaths of his friends pulls the heartstrings. Jayme Armstrong gives an emotional rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Fantine’s death bed. Anwyn Musico demonstrates her rich soprano voice as Cosette. Children Brooke Bauer as Young Cosette and Drew Davis as Gavroche both sing in clear voices, while looking adorable.
Thank goodness for Eddie Glen and Kristen Peace as the Thenardiers. This hilarious pair provides the comic relief in an otherwise emotionally packed show. They are hilarious in the rousing “Master of the House”, and later bring laughs to the wedding scene.
I have seen many productions of Les Mis over the years, including the Toronto production last fall that moved with some of the cast to Broadway. This version is equal to, if not better, than the best. This is certainly Drayton’s hit of the season featuring a solid cast who give their all.
Les Mis continues with eight shows a week until August 30 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office: 519-238-6000 or Toll Free 1-855-372-9866, or check www.huroncountryplayhouse.com
Photo: David Rogers as Jean Valjean. Student protest. Photos by Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.
By Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg
Based on a novel by Victor Hugo
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel
Additional material by James Fenton
Adapted and originally directed by Trevor Nunn and John Caird
Orchestrations by John Cameron
Directed by Alex Mustakas
Music direction by Robert Foster
Performed by David Rogers, Lee Siegel, Eddie Glen, Kristen Peace, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Jayme Armstrong, David Cotton, Anwyn Musico, et al.
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
August 7 to 30, 2014
Reviewed by Mary Alderson