How do you take one of the world’s longest running and most popular mega-musicals, Les Miserables, scale it down to fit the confines the Stanley Theatre and still create a great evening of entertainment? If you’re the Arts Club Theatre Company you do it with great deal of passion, some incredible voices, a six-piece orchestra that sounds so much bigger and an ensemble that is as strong as the leads.
Based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables tells the story of petty-thief Jean Valjean (Kieran Martin Murphy) who is paroled and despite his parole restrictions, attempts to redeem his life. Failing to obtain an honest job and with the stigma attached because of his imprisonment, Valjean soon realizes that the only way to survive in this pre-revolution France is to break parole and conceal his identity. Obsessed with finding the wayward Valjean, police inspector Javert (Rejean Cournoyer) vows to track him down and bring him back to prison at all costs.
As Valjean begins to reinvent his life, he pledges to a dying mother, Fantine (Sara-Jeanne Hosie) to rescue her daughter Cosette (Emily Matchette as the Young Cosette) from the Thenardiers (Nicola Lipman and John Mann) and adopt her as his own.
A number of years later, as the French lower classes begin their revolt, the older Cosette (Kaylee Harwood) falls in love with Marius (Jeffrey Victor) and is helped by the Thenardiers’ daughter Eponine (Rebecca Talbot) despite her own love for Marius. And as the revolution begins, student leader Enjolras (Jonathan Winsby) leads a rag-tag army at a barricade where Marius is ultimately saved by Valjean, while still being pursued by the persistent Javert.
Not surprising the synopsis here only manages to scratch the surface of the show’s intricate plot but fortunately, Les Miserables does not become bogged down in its many layered story. And for those that might still find the story a bit daunting, the Playbill becomes required reading before the show with a very detailed synopsis.
Stand-outs amongst the leads here include Murphy and Hosie (Valjean and Fantine) and while Talbot is slightly weaker in the singing department, her ability to convey the emotion of Eponine is definitely heartfelt.
Along with these strong leads, this production benefits from a magnificent ensemble who, even with their larger number, find themselves as everything from beggars to prostitutes to factory workers to student revolutionaries. Special mention amongst this very talented group must go to Janet Gigliotti and while the women’s ensemble is tighter than the men’s, when combined, the entire ensemble is simply glorious.
Set Designer Ted Roberts does a good job with the number of locales in this sprawling piece and the decision to not use the traditional turntable, although nostalgically disappointing, is not a handicap. Like the cast out front, the crew behind the scenes is also kept busy, ensuring some very rapid and fluid scene transitions.
Costume Designer Alison Green has both the challenge and dream job of dressing such a large cast and, perhaps with the exception of the wedding scene, manages to illicit the vast array of denizens of 18th century France.
While sound can be one of the biggest problems with “pop operas” like this, the team here, led by Sound Designer Chris Daniels, has obviously worked hard to get it just right with not a single point where the actors were lost on stage because of faulty or poor sound equipment.
And finally, along with this incredible cast, crew and production team are the phenomenal musicians led by Musical Director Bruce Kellett. Only six members strong, Kellett gets the most of his team hidden away somewhere in the bowels of the Stanley and had we not been told of the orchestra’s small size, would have sworn that the orchestra was much larger than it really was.
Les Miserables continues through July 19th at the Stanley Theatre as the final production for the Arts Club’s 2008/2009 season as a truly great end to what has turned out to be an equally great season.
For tickets and information visit the Arts Club Theatre Company website at http://www.artsclub.com.