Theater Review

'Les Miserables' an earnest, talent-filled production

CorrespondentFebruary 12, 2014 

  • Details

    What: “Les Misérables” presented by N.C. Theatre

    Where: Memorial Auditorium, Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh

    When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12-16 and 18-23; 2 p.m. Feb. 15-16 and 22-23

    Tickets: $25-$106

    Info: 919-831-6941 or nctheatre.com

The popular 1987 Broadway musical, “Les Misérables,” has had long runs in New York and on tour, and there’ve been versions for public television and film. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s music and Herbert Kretzmer’s lyrics still have a Pavlovian pull that elicits strong emotional responses, as proved in N.C. Theatre’s current production.

Victor Hugo’s novel is epic in scale, which this through-composed musical matches in quasi-operatic fashion with its high-intensity solos, duets and choruses. The complicated story of police inspector Javert’s pursuit of former prisoner Jean Valjean, whose life has changed by adopting the young Cosette, is told in scenes that move quickly in time and location. First-timers (are there any left?) would do well to read the program’s synopsis to fill in the background.

N.C. Theatre’s strong cast has three lead performers reprising the roles they’ve played on Broadway. Craig Schulman’s Valjean has all the required notes and emotional shadings, with enough stamina for the staging’s many physical elements. Chuck Wagner’s imposing stature gives Javert visual menace – his rich, well-controlled baritone filling out the character’s threatening nature. Raleigh native Lauren Kennedy gives distraught, dying Fantine, Cosette’s mother, a moving, ethereal delicacy. Any traces of strain from these veterans are easily forgiven through their consummate professionalism.

Julie Benko’s sweet soprano gives Cosette innocent charm, nicely paired with Bruce Landry’s beautifully sung Marius, the young student in love with her. Charlie Brady sings powerfully as Enjolras, leader of the student revolution, and English Bernhardt makes a heart-tugging Éponine, hopelessly in love with Marius. Bernhardt’s “On My Own” garners the strongest applause of the evening.

Dirk Lumbard and Alison Cimmet have a ball playing the conniving inn-owners, the Thénardiers, the main comic relief in this otherwise serious and often sad tale.

Nine-year-old Riley Campbell (Lauren Kennedy’s daughter) as Young Cosette and 13-year-old Reed Shannon, as the street urchin Gavroche, easily grab the audience’s sympathies.

Director Dave Clemmons gets tight precision from his cast, his many striking stage pictures enhanced by John Bartenstein’s painterly lighting. Bruce Brockman’s picturesque settings add warmth to the stark drama, reflecting this production’s lighter, storybook tone.

Thankfully, the amplification is mostly good here, the soloists easily understood. Edward G. Robinson’s 16-piece orchestra sounds best in the intimate moments, but takes on a harsher quality in the grander sections.

“Les Misérables” fans will have little to complain about, though, in this earnest, talent-filled production.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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