by Stu Brown
The score to Les Miserables contains soaring anthems, heart-wrenching ballads and rousing group numbers. The songs, with words and music by Herbert Kretzmer and Claude-Michel Schonberg, are receiving a glorious rendition in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s concert format of the beloved classic. In this version, the actors and actresses step up to the microphone lined edge of the stage to sing their songs. There are almost no dramatic interactions by the acting troupe. Sung by a superbly blended cast of theater veterans and, mostly, recent college graduates, this production of Les Miserables can still pack an emotional wallop.
The cast is led by David Harris as Jean Valjean. A seasoned professional in Australia, now making his home in the United States, Harris commands the stage as the former convict who changes his life around. He possesses a rich, strong voice that resonates throughout the small theater. Terrence Mann, who also directed the show, recreates the role of Inspector Javert that he originated on Broadway when the show opened in 1987. He still maintains a menace and swagger as the obsessively minded police officer.
Alex Zeto’s Fantine is sorrowful with an angelic voice; Joe Callahan gives Marius a hint of naivete and the outspokenness of a student caught up in the tumult of France’s revolutionary period; Chandler Lovelle as the older Cosette is radiant as she experiences true love for the first time; Will Bryant as Enjoiras has leading man good looks and authority in his character. He is someone to keep an eye on in the musical theater world; Ariana DeBose is pure heartache and melancholy as the ill-fated Eponine; Liz Larson, taking a short break from the Broadway musical Beautiful and Philip Hoffman give the roles of Madame Thenardier and husband Thenardier a comedic touch. But beware. They are more threatening and intimidating than amusing.
As director, Terrence Mann’s biggest responsibility is to make sure each actor hits his or her mark in front of the correct microphone. The large group scenes are well-orchestrated and lively. His handling of Javert’s suicide is simple, but effectively rendered.
The one misstep in this thoroughly satisfying production is the lack of a synopsis in the program. For audience members not familiar with the multi-layered story the omission can limit the overall enjoyment of the piece. A quick trip to Wikipedia’s Les Miserables page before attending a performance will provide a good overview.
Les Miserables, at the Connecticut Repertory Theater in Storrs through June 7th.