Les Misérables. You don’t go into a play called “The Miserable” and expect a comedy. But the Broad Brook Opera House version was a joy to experience.
The play itself, set in France, is probably one of the most depressing musicals you’ll see. There’s heartbreak, war and almost every character dies. But what gets you through it is the music and the songs you come to the show to hear.
While Broad Brook’s took a seemingly black box approach to the production with a minimalist set that had some hiccups here and there, that allowed the audience to focus on the singing and the acting.
The vocals in this production blew me away as characters with powerhouse voices poured passion into their acting. Tim Reilly played the dictator Juan Peron in the Warner Theatre’s Evita with me, so when I found out he would be playing law enforcer Javert it came as no surprise. I never realized how much he resembles Russell Crowe, who played the part in the movie, until I saw him in his uniform and hat, though he has a much stronger singing voice that vibrates with operatic power and fills the room. His suicide scene marks a turning point in the show and mood shift once he sees true human nature and realizes his strict view of everything he thought was right might be wrong. Not to mention it took trust falling from a high platform into the arms of nine cast members below.
Luis Manzi was most powerful as Valjean in the beginning when his character struggled more as a prisoner seeking a second chance for stealing bread and decides to change his identity for a better life. Since Manzi injured himself on opening night, Director Sharon FitzHenry stepped in to do stage combat and other complicated blocking as Valjean while he sang. The dynamic of two people playing the lead character was an artsy solution that added vigor to the part in a way I’ve never seen it done before.
Kendra Scott played a spunky Fantine and her high vibratto carried the emotion of her struggle more so than her demeanor. Fantine, a working mother abandoned by her child’s father, pays to have innkeepers care for her daughter. She is a victim of prejudice and sexism in a societal system that favors the affluent, so I would have liked to see more vulnerability than fight in the acting when she is turned on the streets after being fired for having a child but no husband. But Scott gets there by Fantine’s final scene and captures her desperation perfectly as she grows delusional seeing a Cosette who isn’t there and passes away of illness and malnourishment.
Kaytlyn Vandeloecht’s sweet soprano voice stood out as the adult Cosette, balancing nicely with Randy Davidson’s (Marius) smooth tenor sound. The two show that love at first sight is possible amid all the misery around them.
Shaun O’Keefe had a bellowing, commanding voice, sparking his Enjoiras with intensity to lead the tone of the other rebels at the barricades fighting against the French soldiers. The barricades faced away from the audience giving us the sense we were in it with the rebels.
Gabrielle Carrubba brought the most emotion to Èponine in my favorite Les Mis song, “On My Own,” and in her death scene, “A Little Fall of Rain.” Before then in the first act, she played Èponine very muted, jealous and weak as she pines for Marius, a friend who will never love her that way. Disguising herself as a male rebel brought her character to life.
The children in the show who played Young Cosette (double cast as Lily Girard and Teagan Kreiger) and Young Èponine (Rebecca Gordon) held their own in the adult cast. Maeve Jordon (Gavroche) had a standout voice and energetic movements as the scrappy little boy at the barricades.
In a somber play, you need some moments of humor to balance out the tragedy. That song is “Master of the House” in Les Mis. The Broad Brook version has less comedy and focuses more on the sassy relationship of shady innkeepers Madame Thénardier (Christine Voytko) and Thénardier (Paul DiProto) and their stealing. Their vocals did not carry as much as the other leads, but it’s possible that was a mic issue. The duo got the most laughs in the wedding scene toward the end when they are donning wigs and have porcelain faces accented with rosy, clown cheeks. The contrast of their bickering over the price for Cosette behind Valjean’s back as he cares for the child is spot on for a laugh.
Christian Tarr (Combeferre), Stephen Jewell (Feuilly), Melvin Swinton (Courfeyrac), Daniel Viets (Joly), Christopher James (Grantaire) and James Galarneau (Prouvaire) play everything from soldiers to rebels. Of them, the drunken rebel surprised with an ear-catching, operatic timbre.
Les Mis is a good show to be in the ensemble because there are many minor soloist lines and extra actors are need to play everything from the poor to the workers and the wealthy wedding guests. Glenn Gordon, Reva Kleppel, Rob Lunde, Moonyean Field, Ysanne Marshall, Nancy Neff, Lindsay Taft and Julia Grace Feinberg comprise the ensemble.
The cast enters and exits often from the aisles, engrossing the audience even more in the story.
Bill Martin is the musical director and Moonyean Field produced it.
Les Mis closes this weekend with May 16-18 shows at the hall on Main Street.
It was my first time in the barn turned opera house, which the theater group owns, and it’s a nice space I’d like to return to and maybe act at.