Wednesday, June 14, 2006 at 8:00pm
Los Angeles, CA
I came to this performance with a friend and her sister, and I literally had my fingers crossed as we approached the theatre that Randal Keith and Robert Hunt were going to be on for their enjoyment. But I was surprised by something I didn't even remotely expect:
|Jean Valjean||Randal Keith||Javert||Robert Hunt|
|Fantine||Joan Almedilla||Young Cosette||Rachel Schier|
|Madame Thénardier||Jennifer Butt||Thénardier||Norman Large|
|Gavroche||Anthony Skillman||Eponine||Melissa Lyons|
|Enjolras||Eric Briarley *||Marius||Daniel Bogart|
|Cosette||Leslie Henstock||The Bishop of Digne||Gabriel Kalomas|
|Foreman||Pierce Peter Brandt||Factory Girl||Candice Nicole|
|Old Woman (locket)||Lisa Capps ***||Crone (hair)||Suzanna Neeley Bridges|
|Old Beggar Woman ("Look Down")||Marnie Nicolella||Montparnasse||Kip Driver|
|Babet||Kevin David Thomas||Brujon||Roger Seyer|
|Claquesous||James Chip Leonard||Combeferre||Pierce Peter Brandt|
|Feuilly||Don Brewer **||Courfeyrac||Jason Kraack|
|Joly||Charles Hagerty||Grantaire||Dave Hugo|
|Lesgles||Gabriel Kalomas||Jean Prouvaire||Ryan Williams|
* Eric Briarley on for Victor
** Don Brewer on for Eric Briarley
*** Lisa Capps on for Karen Elliot
Eric Briarley was on as Enjolras. I'd never seen an understudy for Enjolras before so this was new. I mean, I absolutely love Victor's take on the role, but it is always such a thrill to see someone new in a role.
Only problem was my seat was in the second row of the orchestra, and shaded pretty far to the left side. 1) I was pretty damn close to the orchestra and the left speakers so it was quite loud. 2) I couldn't see the floor of the stage and thus didn't get the full effect unless the actors were at the very front. 3) I got a good look at the back of some people's heads, but also a good look at others' faces.
Wow. It only gets better as you move closer up and really get a good look at his facial expressions to go along with his spectacular voice. I mean, he is so good that you hardly notice and certainly don't care that his voice cracked ever so slightly a couple times. And yes, Les Misérables is certainly an ensemble effort, but Randal really carries it and gives it the driving force that makes it so good.
I got to see a lot of Robert's facial expressions during this show, and he has this sneer during "Fantine's Arrest" that really made me believe he was thinking how Fantine is just another piece of dirt being scraped up off the street. It really made me wonder if Javert would have sympathy for anyone at all. It's kind of funny, but from where I was sitting, I could literally see the spray of spit he emitted when he enunciated very deliberately. That's how much effort he puts into his lines, and yet, it doesn't really seem like too much at all. The intensity fits Javert's unwavering perseverance and pursuit of justice, and every time he is on stage, he puts forth a frighteningly bold presence. I think of him as a looming brick wall that only finally crumbles when his very foundation is torn apart by Valjean sparing his life.
And again, like Sunday, most of his performance was slightly toned down in intensity except for "Javert's Suicide". He literally was spitting his disgust for Valjean through most of it.
My friends and I had an interesting discussion about Joan's Fantine. I won't go into it here, but let's just say their reaction was just like mine when I saw first saw her again in SF last year. But for some reason, this is the first time I've really been able to see her face during "Come to Me" and damn, the make-up job they do on her to make her look sick is kind of disturbing.
I finally realized what it is about Rachel's voice -- she's growing out of it. Instead of being to sing those high notes from her chest voice, she's singing most of "Castle on a Cloud" using her head voice -- which makes perfect sense about why she's super slow now in taking down the chairs. Too much physical effort will cause her to lose support for her singing. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. It makes it more believable that she's weak, neglected, and has nowhere to go and no one to comfort her except in her own head -- which is rather sad.
But I really liked seeing her up close. She doesn't seem to shake quite as much as when I saw her in SF or maybe even DC, but watching her in "Waltz of Treachery" was fun. When Jennifer put her hand on Rachel's shoulder, Rachel had this absolutely disgusted look on her face and stared at her hand like it was going to bite her on the nose. It was also kind of funny after "Castle on a Cloud" when Jennifer literally towered over her saying, "You heard me ask for something and I never ask twice!" and Rachel leaned as far back as she could go without falling over, eyes clamped shut, body completely stiff with fear. Great acting.
That's one hell of a freaky mole she's got on the side of her face, and it just makes her that much more a freaky woman. She's so good at terrorizing poor little Cosette that you believe that she's flown off the handle many times before and is on the precipice of doing so again very soon. Also, as I've said in SF, Jennifer and Norman work quite well together, and she pretty much slaps him around to keep him from messing things up with his money-oriented one-track mind. Their interaction is so funny to watch.
I think it's hilarious how so much of Thénardier's sliminess is conveyed just through the contorted, perpetually sneering facial expression that Norman has throughout the show. He certainly doesn't enjoy being an innkeeper, except for the fact that he needs customers to rob and swindle. As I've said previously, I kind of wish he didn't have to get rid of some of the comedy, but much of it was actually semi-restored tonight. It's just a little more subtle and not as obvious as in SF.
My friends brought up an interesting observation that I hadn't really thought about before. I'd always noticed Anthony's movements on stage were somewhat stiff and unnatural, but they pointed out that it really did look like Anthony was trying so hard to find his mark on stage, and that when he got there, he didn't budge until he was supposed to. I would have thought that since he's been doing this show for quite some time now, he should feel comfortable enough to not have to be so systematic about it. But then again, he is only 9 or so, and some kids need to follow specific directions no matter how familiar they are with something. But still, he's got a good voice and plenty of attitude to make up for it.
I know there are some people who don't like her characterization of Eponine, but I think it works extraordinarily well. She doesn't have that emotional vulnerability that I saw in DC, but she at least isn't as whiney and pouty as she was in SF. In any case, she plays up the tomboyish quality in Eponine so well that it actually makes sense that Marius doesn't feel the same way about her as she does him. Clearly, Marius likes his women to be well-dressed, proper, and elegant. And certainly Eponine knows she's none of those things. And as with every other review I've written about her, I can't neglect to mention "On My Own". Damn, I love her voice. Flawless.
The highlight of this show was getting to see Eric Briarley go on as Enjolras, which is pretty damn rare because Victor Wallace is so consistent. I could tell he hasn't done this track a whole lot because he was a little hesitant about where to begin singing his first line as Enjolras. He started to come in early, realized it immediately and ended up repeating himself to get on the right beat ("Where are ... where are the leaders of the land?"). But like I said, it was kind of hesitant and half under his breath, so I'm not sure everyone would have heard it.
Overall, he seems to draw his characterization of Enjolras from a similar place that Victor Wallace does. There are many similarities between the two of them -- such as addressing the audience in "The Final Battle" ("Let us die facing our foes, make them bleed while we can!"), which, as I said for Victor, could seem rather contrived but because they both portray such strong leaders, it is believable. He also had a very similar interaction with Dave Hugo's Grantaire that Victor had with Trent Blanton (but was missing both times I saw Victor and Dave) in "Drink with Me": after Grantaire's solo and everyone is glaring at him, Eric slams his hand on the chest, storms off momentarily, comes back and grabs Dave on the arm to say something angry but brief, and then walks away. And then after Marius' solo, when Eric is on top of the barricade, they turn to look at each other and Eric holds his gun out toward Dave, who holds up his wine bottle. It's a great moment.
He did have a different take on his relationship with Marius than Victor or even Michael Halling (if I remember correctly). Whereas Victor and Michael were more like older brothers to Marius, standing over him during "Red and Black" to chastise him for acting childish, Eric sat down on the chair next to Dan and talked to him more on an equal level. He didn't try to talk down to him, but rather urged Marius that their individual lives were of little consequence now. In fact, Eric had a way of making the students consider what it was they were gathered there to do, to question their rights as human beings, that is from less of an angry place but is in a
Eric was wonderfully believable at embodying the leadership role, and there were only a couple times where his energy fell slightly. But in all, he's a great Enjolras and I feel lucky to have seen him.
I'm starting to like Dan's Marius a little more now. I didn't really notice him sitting on some vowels as much (and I'm not sure if it's just that I'm getting used to it or if he did it less), and I think he's kind of a cute Marius. You know that his Marius is a grown man, but there are times, especially when he's pining over Cosette, that a bit of boyishness comes through. And he has this goofy grin that he suddenly gets sometimes, and this was probably the first time that I actually felt like Marius and Cosette had a legitimate, romantic, love-at-first-sight connection.
His relationship with Eponine is so much more respectful and loving (in a platonic way) than Adam's Marius was. He didn't see Eponine so much as a means to get to Cosette, but as a friend that would be willing to do him a favor because he knows she wants him to be happy. He truly appreciates her presence, even through his despair about Cosette leaving, at the beginning of "One Day More".
I really enjoyed "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" in this performance, because strangely, even though there were many times where he was singing loud and projecting his voice, he didn't do that overly operatic thing that bothers me. If he could apply that same vowel approach to the rest of the role, he would be one of my favorite Marii. In any case, his performance of that song exuded very deep emotions, both in his voice and his facial expressions and movements. It was rather haunting the way he would stare right through the ghosts of his friends -- not looking at their faces -- but rather at the chairs beside him, and he did that again after the ghosts had gone. That sight usually only makes me sad, but the way Dan goes about really does make it seem like we are seeing the specters of his friends through his eyes. "A Little Fall of Rain" was also very moving because of how troubled he looked as Eponine was dying in his arms and how comforting he really tried to be. He also breaks my heart in that extended pause he takes before he sings "grow" at the end, and all of his emotion comes pouring out of that single word.
I really enjoyed Leslie's performance, much more than Thursday, and maybe it's because of how close I was to the speakers (which were a little overpowering) but I didn't even notice that vowel issue I mentioned from Thursday's performance. I was even listening for it and before I knew it, Leslie had finished her solo part of "In My Life" and I couldn't pick out anything amiss. In fact, her voice was absolutely beautiful all night, but especially so in "Every Day" and in the "Epilogue". And having heard her and Dan sing together for a second time, I kind of do like the way their voices blend -- although a lot of it is the fact that Dan's voice doesn't have the power to match Leslie's in some of the higher notes.