Les Misérables

By Alain Boubill and Claude-Michel Schonberg
Performed by Students of The High School Project
Directed by Susan Ferley
Grand Theatre Production
Grand Theatre, London
September 25 to October 6, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Strong voices in Students’ Production of Les Miz

Once again, the Grand’s High School Project is at a level worthy of the professional stage it’s on. This year’s production is Les Misérables School Edition, and with 66 students involved (46 on stage and 20 in the crew), Director Susan Ferley can take great pride on how well it’s come together.

Les Misérables is the story of Jean Valjean, a convict in France in the early 1800’s. After his release from the chain gang, he is given a break by a priest and decides to live an honest life, helping others. He becomes mayor of his town and a successful businessman, but nevertheless he is still pursued by Inspector Javert for a parole violation. When Fantine dies, Jean Valjean adopts her daughter Cosette and they move to Paris on the eve of the French Revolution. With streets barricaded, idealistic young students take up the cause, and a love story develops.

Trevor Patt, (who appeared in last year’s High School Project, West Side Story) is very good in the demanding role of Jean Valjean. His high tenor voice is perfect for the beautiful prayer when he sings “Bring him home.” Also impressive is Tessa Morris as Eponine when she sings “On my own.”

Adding comic relief to this dark musical are Ben Linley as Thenardier and Genevieve Melito as Madame Thenardier, the unscrupulous barkeeper and his wife. Ben and Genevieve both handle their roles very well, and are real audience-pleasers, making the scene at the inn great fun.

The cast is full of strong singers with beautiful voices: Shauna Yarnell as Cosette, Tamara Paolatto as Fantine, Jordan Campbell as Marius, Coltan Abel as Javert and Trevor Horman as Enjolras (Trevor was Tony in last year’s West Side Story.)

Three elementary school students have been added to the cast. Christina Rapacz does very well as young Cosette, and on opening night Shayne Gracious was wonderful as Gavroche. Brady Johnson plays the role of Gavroche on alternate performances.

Strathroy is again represented in the High School Project. After playing the naïve teacher in last year’s West Side Story, Patrick Verkley is part of the ensemble of Les Miz. Patrick is a grade 11 student at Holy Cross Secondary School.

The entire ensemble deserves special mention for their rich harmonies. The theatre reverberates in glorious sound when the full cast joins together for “One Day More” at the end of the first act. It’s one of those moments in a musical that makes your spine tingle.

The only area that seems to need a little work is the scene where the students are fighting at the barricade. When the characters are shooting, there is a lack of urgency usually present in other productions of Les Miz. Nor is there enough drama in the deaths – perhaps it’s an attempt to present the fighting in slow motion, but it seems anticlimactic as the bodies fall.

The rich music and remarkable singing (especially in such a young cast) makes a very enjoyable evening, and the High School Project is well worth supporting.

Each year hundreds of high school students from London and surrounding area audition for the opportunity to work and learn at the Grand, with a professional director, choreographer, musical director and so on. The students are treated as if they were professional cast members, and expected to perform at that level. This is the 11th major musical put on by students, and in the spring a play is produced. The staff at the Grand deserves credit for keeping this project going, and producing such high calibre shows, providing a great opportunity for youth.

Les Misérables continues at the Grand Theatre in London until October 6. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

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