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Les Misérables

Tuesday, January 3, 2005 at 8:00pm
National Theatre
Washington, D.C.

After a 5 1/2-month "drought" of not seeing Les Misérables, I flew out to D.C. to visit my friends and also take advantage of being in the same city as the show. I bought tickets for later in the week months in advance, but for this particular performance, I decided to go straight to the box office the morning of and see if they had any cheap balcony tickets available. No. Everything was sold out except for partially obstructed seats and standing room only. Partials were $72 and standing room only was $21. I decided to forgo comfort in the name of Les Mis. So, as a result, being distracted by my feet and back hurting and being at the very back of the theatre, I probably wasn't the most observant and probably didn't get the best read on the newer performers.

Anyway, the cast:

Jean Valjean   Randal Keith Javert   Robert Hunt
Fantine   Joan Almedilla Young Cosette   Rachel Schier
Madame Thénardier   Jennifer Butt Thénardier   David McDonald
Gavroche   Austyn Myers Eponine   Melissa Lyons
Enjolras   Victor Wallace Marius   Adam Jacobs
Cosette   Ali Ewoldt * The Bishop of Digne   Gabriel Kalomas
Foreman   Pierce Peter Brandt Factory Girl   Candice Nicole
Old Woman (locket)   Karen Elliot Crone (hair)   Sierra Boggess
Old Beggar Woman ("Look Down")   Betsy Werbel ** Montparnasse   Don Brewer ***
Babet   Kevin David Thomas Brujon   Don Brewer ****
Claquesous   James Chip Leonard Combeferre   Pierce Peter Brandt
Feuilly   Eric Briarley Courfeyrac   Jason Kraack
Joly   Charles Hagerty Grantaire   Trent Blanton
Lesgles   Gabriel Kalomas Jean Prouvaire   Ryan Williams

* Ali Ewoldt substituted for Leslie Henstock
** Betsy Werbel substituted for Ali Ewoldt (and also Marnie Nicolella)
*** Don Brewer substituted for Kip Driver
**** Don Brewer substituted for David Michael Felty

One of the first things I noticed was that the orchestra sounded quite a bit smaller -- or at least a bit less powerful -- than in San Francisco. At first, I wondered if they had gone back to using a synthesizer for some of the instruments, but the playbill appears to have to have roughly the same number of orchestra members. The next thing that occurred to me was that the acoustics was MUCH more different than anywhere else I'd seen Les Mis, which might be related to how the orchestra sounded. When the performers started singing, it became clear that the theatre was designed for emphasizing vocal performance because everything that they said or sang was crystal clear. Even from my spot at the back of the theatre. Later on in the performance, I realized that despite losing some of the additional depth from a strong orchestra, in a way it was good because the actors' voices were brought out much more and you could hear a lot more of the detail in their lines. I could also hear a lot of chatter and even other little sounds like shoes hitting the floor that I'd never been able to make out as well before.

Generally, the whole ensemble was very strong, dynamic and energetic. Most of them have been working together for a long time now, and even the newer cast members seem to have integrated well. The only thing about tonight was the fact that Betsy Werbel and Don Brewer were both doing double duty in covering other roles, so the cast was short one man and one woman. (I knew something didn't quite look right about "Lovely Ladies" when I counted 7 whores when I think there's usually 8.)

Randal Keith

Having seen Randal five times in San Francisco, I think I am running out of new things to say about his performance, which was spectacular as usual. Oh, how I missed "Bring Him Home", though. Chills down my spine.

Robert Hunt

Similarly, I've mentioned everything I like about Robert already, and I'd just be repeating myself. But, I did notice he performed his soliloquy/suicide with a lot more rage than I remember. Even from the first several lines, he kind of growled them out and let a good pause resonate in between the lines to show just how conflicted he was, and then later he managed to roar out "WHO NEVER DOUBTED all these years?" Not sure if that worked, but it definitely added to the "enraged" feeling I got from him. I also had a strange thought run through my mind: when he held up his club toward the end of "The Confrontation" after Randal smashed the chair, I felt like he was trying to hit a home run ball because of the way he was standing. It literally looked like a batter's stance from where I was.

Joan Almedilla

Some of her acting has improved a lot. She's a bit more dynamic and aggressive in "At the End of the Day" -- you could sense a bit more fire in her. She also took "I Dreamed a Dream" a lot more slowly than I remember her doing in SF, and for the most part it worked in giving it more of a sad, pensive tone. On the other hand, she kind of overdid the pensiveness at the very beginning of IDAD, where all she did was stand there, completely motionless, and staring into space with an absolutely blank look that I could not read anything from. Granted, I don't have the best eyesight but my contacts prescription is relatively recent, but I don't think she should have been relying on solely facial expression and nothing else for a whole 15 seconds anyway. She literally didn't move at all for that time. And vocally, her voice wasn't nearly as powerful as I think she was in SF, despite the underpowered orchestra -- both in belting which she didn't do very well with anyway, but also the head voice stuff earlier in the song. Still, she was at her best in "Come to Me", to which she also took a slightly different approach, at least for the first part of it. Usually, she is sleeping while the nurses are tending to her, but this time she was awake, coughing, and visibly very sick. She also turned to her side and curled herself up very tightly in her blanket, and as her coughing fit passed, she appeared to sink deeper into her hallucination and seemed to want the outside world to leave her alone.

Rachel Schier

Rachel both sang and acted completely differently than she did in SF. In fact, the only reason I knew it was Rachel was because I recognized her face (even from the back of the theatre) because if I'd only listened to her singing and acting, I would have thought it was a completely different girl. It almost seemed like she was holding back in her singing, and it didn't seem like she was projecting as strongly. On the one hand, I somewhat disliked that fact, but in combination with her different approach to the acting, I came to like it -- and I certainly would have liked it right off the bat if I hadn't seen her in SF to have that to compare to. "Castle on a Cloud" was very dreamy, much more utopia fantasy-like than before. She had this sweet little smile on her face as she sang, and had her hands clasped in her lap. I also noticed she did more than just sit there during "Waltz of Treachery" like she did before. She made Young Cosette more aware of what was going on (or as much as she's supposed to), and she looked as if being next to or being touched by the Thénardiers was the last thing she wanted. And at the end of that scene, after Randal ties her bonnet on, she very eagerly grabbed his elbows (which looked kind of funny because Randal's arms are quite big) to say, "Will there be children and castles to see?"

Jennifer Butt

Freakishly good Madame Thénardier, as always. More or less the same as in SF. All kinds of mean towards Young Cosette, and just as devious and greedy as M. Thénardier.

David McDonald

Because Fabio Polanco is taking some time off, David McDonald was called in to take his place until he comes back. David is a good M. Thénardier, with an excellent singing voice, and he did most of the standard stuff fairly well. But I just felt like he didn't put as much effort into the comedy as he could have -- even when he did standard bits, those could have been better. Maybe I became spoiled by seeing people like David Benoit and especially Norman Large, but I've always felt that this role requires a lot of energy and dynamic, and he just didn't really have much of either. But ... the singing was good. Did I mention that? I do have to mention that he flubbed a line. In "The Robbery", he's supposed to sing, "Brujon, Babet, Claquesous" but instead, she said, "Babet, you too, Claquesous". Well, at least he covered well with something that rhymes.

Austyn Myers

I think Austyn has to be the Gavroche with the most attitude and acting depth I've ever seen. From the moment he opened his mouth for his first line in "Look Down", everything about his facial expression, gestures, and tone of voice exuded attitude. Even the inflections of making important words stand out in the right context was dead on. He maybe doesn't have the best singing voice, but he's still great to listen to. But what really blew me away was how much extra stuff he was able to do with Gavroche when he wasn't singing or the center of attention. Little things like:

And he had an excellent death scene as well. He made it sound like he was completely preoccupied with gathering the extra ammo, not trying to make his singing neat and tidy or anything. He got startled by the first shot, and went back to gathering bullets, though more evasively. Then when he got shot, he did a good job at seeming to be in a lot of pain, and he took quite a long time in rolling up the ammo bag and taking a couple preparatory wind-up swings before tossing the bag to Victor. He delivered his final line with fervor, and did a good job at falling dead.

Can't wait to see him again.

Melissa Lyons

Damn, I love her voice. Despite her voice not filling the theatre at the end of "On My Own" like she did in SF, which I am almost certain is the responsibility of the people of the soundboard rather than Melissa's voice, I still think she's one of the best Eponine's I've seen. (I guess I haven't really seen that many, but of the ones I have, she's my favorite.) She even kind of toned down the acting a wee bit, but she kept the essence of her interpretation the same. I kind of felt that she's given her Eponine a little bit of vulnerability now -- not much, but just barely enough to give the sense that even though Eponine is acting tough, she's capable of showing affection. In fact, she was a lot more affectionate with Adam than I remember her being in SF. In "Eponine's Errand", when she sings, "I've got you worried, now I have. That shows you like me quite a lot!" she very adoringly ran her hand down Adam's arm and held his hand. And Adam, portraying Marius as being blind to it all, never really acknowledges it. He just continues on about how he's relieved to have Eponine there to take his letter to Cosette. And it isn't until "A Little Fall of Rain" that he seems to finally realize that Eponine really does care deeply for him. There was a moment there when she sang "Just hold me now and let it be ..."  that she had her fingers caressing Adam's face and my heart just fell to pieces. Anyway, "On My Own" floored me once again, and just her overall performance being so clean and more heartfelt now.

Victor Wallace

Having only seen him once at this point, and especially because of where I was in the theatre, I don't think I got the best read of his performance. But I will say that he has a good voice, and comes across as an effective leader. I don't think he's quite as strong vocally as Michael Halling, particularly in the upper part of his range (similar to, but definitely stronger than, John-Andrew Clark -- at least, of what I remember of him), so that might have had a bit to do with him not seeming to be zealous a leader, but his acting helped to make a little of that up. There were some lines here and there that he took very evenly, quite deliberate, and perhaps a tad bit slower that I found a little strange, but at the same time, it made him seem more determined as well. He also came across as quite measured, seeming as if he thinks things through (even if it's just for a moment) before deciding on something (whereas it seemed like Michael Halling's Enjolras always acted on his impulses immediately).

Adam Jacobs

While his voice is still a little nasal from time to time, I still liked his performance. It's more or less the same as in SF, though he seemed to be a little more angry at the end of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables", in his facial expression, voice, and the way he pounded really hard on the table. I also liked how he ended "A Little Fall of Rain": instead of seeing Melissa go limp and singing "grow" soon after, he let a really long pause go by, as if he was slowly registering the death of one of his best friends right in his arms. He continued to be incredibly distraught over Eponine's death, when he pushed Victor away when he tried to offer some consolation. He also did the same kind of thing when he learned that Cosette was going to go away at the beginning of "One Day More", where he knelt down on one knee in despair and Melissa knelt down beside him and put her hand on his knee in solace. But rather than ignoring her like Adam's done before, or acknowledging her friendship like other Marii have done, he pushed her hand away and held up his hand, nonverbally saying that he didn't want her pity. It was these gestures that made me kind of dislike him -- not Adam's interpretation of Marius per se, but that Adam is making his Marius less likable because he is kind of stubbornly standoffish.

Ali Ewoldt

Ali is definitely up there with the best in portraying Cosette, as she has the perfect voice for the role: strong, steady, very clean, and not at all operatic. There doesn't seem to be much effort for her to sing most of those notes, though there were times when I felt she wasn't quite as powerful, but it was only in a couple places in "In My Life". She was also a little bit more serious than other Cosettes -- not quite as youthful and bubbly, but she was still able capture the joy of experiencing this new feeling of being in love in "In My Life". She goes from being wildly excited that perhaps Marius feels the same connection she does to being pleasantly surprised when she realizes that she doesn't feel alone anymore. It was a very sweet moment. She also played off Randal quite well in "One Day More" and really gave him the cold shoulder (but not overly so) when he tried to reach out to her. Several times, she would just turn her head away slightly, but it was enough to speak volumes about how her Cosette felt about Valjean at that moment.