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Les Misérables

Friday, January 6, 2005 at 8:00pm
National Theatre
Washington, D.C.

This was another performance where I was somewhat distracted by my own discomfort, but not nearly to the extent of Tuesday. Despite sitting in the 10th row, I couldn't see very much at all without leaning on my knees. The problem was the National Theatre sold these far right orchestra tickets at regular full price, even though I had the exact same view in the obstructed view box seats in San Francisco, and there was a large man with a large head sitting directly in front of me. I didn't want to obstruct the view of the people behind me by sitting up straight and tilting my head back and forth to be able see, so I leaned down and forward to see in between this man and his wife. Even so, I couldn't see as much as I would have liked and couldn't take in as much of what was going on, so I am likely to have missed a lot of things.

The cast:

Jean Valjean   David Michael Felty * Javert   Robert Hunt
Fantine   Joan Almedilla Young Cosette   Meg Guzulescu
Madame Thénardier   Jennifer Butt Thénardier   David McDonald
Gavroche   Anthony Skillman Eponine   Melissa Lyons
Enjolras   Victor Wallace Marius   Adam Jacobs
Cosette   Leslie Henstock 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   Kip Driver
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

* David Michael Felty substituted for Randal Keith
** Don Brewer substituted for David Michael Felty
*** Betsy Werbel substituted for Marnie Nicolella

It was a little bit disappointing to see the substitution board say that David Michael Felty was going to go on as Valjean, but because I'd seen Randal Keith the night before and on Tuesday, it was acceptable to see a different interpretation. And I'd seen DMF as Valjean on closing day of the SF run and thoroughly enjoyed him then. I was also thrilled to see Leslie Henstock go on as Cosette because I've come to love her interpretation of the role so much. (It also made all three shows unique because I saw different Cosettes each time.)

In general, the entire cast didn't exactly have the same bite as they did the previous two shows. It's possible that some are starting to get hit by a bug, because that was why Leslie was out earlier in the week, and possibly why Randal was out this show. I also noticed that Melissa Lyons' voice was ever so slightly rough around the edges. But I also heard some of the cast members talking after the show about how much of their dynamic is dependent on the energy of the audience. So perhaps there was something about the audience tonight that made it harder to really be on top of their game. I certainly noticed a lack of enthusiasm. Almost nobody cheered for most of the musical numbers (just polite applause), even after songs that usually get a strong reaction from the audience ("Master of the House", "Bring Him Home", and often "On My Own"). There was also no applause for "Javert's Suicide" (and I wasn't going to start it after what happened last night) and "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" even though I thought Robert Hunt and Adam Jacobs performed very well.

David Michael Felty

Having enjoyed DMF's Valjean so much when I saw him in SF, I knew he had the potential to do an exceptional job. Unfortunately, he didn't quite meet my expectations for the most part, particularly in making the connection with the audience. He had the same inflections and gestures that I remember him having in SF, but the emotional energy wasn't quite there. I remember feeling moved to the verge of tears in "What Have I Done?" in SF, but I wasn't this time. Still, it was still a good performance and certainly should be more than satisfactory for most of the audience because he is a strong actor and singer, capable of carrying the show from start to finish.

Robert Hunt

Just wow. In summary of this week, just when I thought he could get any more intense, compelling, and forceful as he was in SF, somehow he managed to ramp it up a few notches more, still without overdoing it. I can see it would be quite easy to go overboard with Javert, but Robert pushes the envelope without going too far. He's relentless and cunning, and he definitely very much like a tiger on the prowl for his prey.

Joan Almedilla

Just when I thought Joan was at her best last night, she managed to top that in this show. There was just so much fire in her Fantine that I didn't really feel like she was lacking any at any time. I loved the way she reacted to the Candice Nicole snatching her letter from her hands. Joan quickly stood up and stalked after her, lashing out with the secret she knew about her, and then not being afraid and standing her ground when Candice quickly spun around and walked back into Joan's face. "I Dreamed a Dream" was quite good, too, and she didn't have the problem with doing too little at the beginning of the song, because all she did was bring her hand from her side to her chest with an expression of despair. That was all that was needed to make a stale moment come alive. She also exhibited a number of emotions in "Lovely Ladies", such as the sudden realization that she could possibly get some money from the Old Woman interested in her locket and doesn't give up pursuing that possibility. I also like the fact that in these three shows I saw, Joan paused a moment to contemplate the hard liquor before downing the shot and running off with a customer. (I'd complained in SF that she immediately took the drink, which didn't seem right for the circumstances.)

Meg Guzulescu

My comments about Meg's performance are about the same as when I saw her in SF: very beautiful voice, somewhat lacking in the acting department. She doesn't have nearly the depth that Rachel is able to bring to Young Cosette's role. She doesn't appear very frightened of Mme. Thénardier or of the prospect of having to into the woods alone in the dark, she doesn't appear to feel safe and content when she is "rescued" by Valjean or that she is to start a new life where she can be happy. She does have a lovely singing voice, though, with an effortless and very natural vibrato. Her little duet with DMF during the well scene was like hearing an angel sing.

Jennifer Butt

Again, it is Jennifer's extensive experience with this role that gives her the ability to know what works and what doesn't. She has impeccable timing and a great sense of delivery to maximize Mme. Thénardier's heartlessness towards Young Cosette and her shrewd ways to manipulate as much money out of Valjean as possible. There's really nothing more you can ask of her.

David McDonald

Once I got over the fact that David's Thénardier just wasn't going to be as funny as almost all the other Thénardiers I've seen and put that aside, I did rather enjoy his performance. His excellent singing makes up for how "standard" his acting is, and I should mention again that some of the "standard" stuff is still quite funny. One thing I particularly enjoyed was his twist on the moment where he and Jennifer cross themselves as she sings, "It's no more than we Christians must do!" While Jennifer crosses herself the right way, David half-crossed himself, looked confused as to how to do it, and then looked a little sheepish when Valjean (either Randal or DMF, because he did it the same all three shows) turned questioningly at him.

Anthony Skillman

Both Anthony and Austyn Myers are two of the best Gavroches I've ever seen, and they're both in the same cast at the same time. What are the chances of that? Anthony maybe didn't have quite as much attitude as a Austyn, but he still has more than enough to give his Gavroche one heck of a kick. His voice also isn't quite as rough (if "rough" can be applied to the voice of nine-year-olds) as Austyn's, but that somewhat allowed his spectacular singing voice come through and it sounded as if singing the full range of Gavroche's notes were effortless. His death scene was where his acting really came through, because he seemed to really struggle after being shot, as if he was in so much pain that he couldn't get up right away. He clutched at his shoulder for a few more moments before continuing with rolling up the bullet bag. He, like Austyn, fell dead very convincingly.

Melissa Lyons

As mentioned above, Melissa was ever so slightly rough around the edges in her voice, so I wonder if she was starting to come down with something, or at least in the process of fighting it off, or perhaps just vocally exhausted. I doubt if I would have noticed it if I hadn't seen her perform ten times, because it was barely noticeable. Most of her acting was just as strong and multifaceted as the previous two shows I saw, and "On My Own" was still amazing as always. Overall, it was nice to see a slight change in her approach to Eponine, giving her character a little more texture.

Victor Wallace

I have a hard time trying to decide whether his acting or singing is stronger because Victor really has mastered the nuances for both to bring Enjolras to life. I may consider him to be my favorite Enjolras at this point. His singing is very clean and he doesn't try to do too much or to be overpowering, and it works very nicely with his acting. He delivers his lines with effective emphasis and natural inflection to really drive his point across: "Grantaire, PUT the bottle down!", "On the tomb of LAMARQUE shall our barricade rise!", "In the heart of the city we CLAIM as our own", etc., all without really being distracting at all. I also like the interaction between him and Adam, where Victor is very much like an older brother, especially in "Red and Black" where Marius is babbling about being head-over-heels. Unlike Michael Halling who came across as quite angry that Marius' head is in the clouds, Victor takes a slightly softer but still very earnest approach at bring him down to earth. Victor stands with one foot on a chair, propping up his elbow and his hand is on Adam's shoulder while telling him he's no longer a child. It isn't until he sings, "Who cares about your lonely soul?" that

I don't know if I mentioned this in the earlier D.C. reviews, but I've come to focus a lot on the way Enjolras and Grantaire play off each other in "Drink With Me". Victor and Trent seem to have had a consistent approach going all three shows: after Trent sang his solo, Victor glanced over at Ryan a little disturbed and upset, slammed his hand on the box he was sitting on, and stormed away. For the rest of the song, Victor went about talking with the other students, looking as if he was encouraging them to stay vigilant, but all the while making it a point to not look at Trent. Trent, on the other hand, almost immediately looked apologetic upon seeing Victor's reaction and looked as if he wanted to apologize, but couldn't even make eye contact with him.

Adam Jacobs

I think I've covered what I needed to say in the previous two shows' reviews. He has a strong voice (that is sometimes a little too strong), but I wonder if he is deliberately having Marius come across as kind of an ass or if that's him just trying to make Marius oblivious. (And I don't know if it's just the fact that I didn't notice this in SF, but I thought it was interesting the way he wiped Eponine's blood off his hand, with a very pained look on his face. I just don't remember seeing this before, but it's a nice touch nonetheless.)

Leslie Henstock

I was so happy to get to see Leslie before leaving D.C. because after seeing her several times in SF, I've come to appreciate how much depth her experience brings to the role of Cosette. Even after having seen four different understudies in the past six months, none of them have quite matched the level of intricacy you see with Leslie. Right from the moment she started singing "In My Life", she had a glow about her and had quite a bit of exuberance. Then when DMF entered, she quickly turned away and sat on the bench a little embarrassed by these new emotions and giggling to herself. Then when DMF came to her, she very tenderly took his hand and had him sit down next to her. That expression of love for her father quickly turned to frustration she couldn't get anything out of him about their pasts. And then at the beginning of "One Day More", after she brings the things Valjean is to pack, DMF reached out to her and she roughly turned away. Unfortunately, I couldn't see her in the rest of that scene. I really love the way she lovingly reaches out to take Adam's hand as she reprises "A Heart Full of Love" in "Every Day", and very gently takes his hand in hers. It's such a beautiful moment.