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Les Misérables

Sunday, June 18, 2006 at 6:30pm
Pantages Theatre
Los Angeles, CA

Another complete cast!

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   Victor Wallace 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   Eric Briarley Courfeyrac   Jason Kraack
Joly   Charles Hagerty Grantaire   Dave Hugo
Lesgles   Gabriel Kalomas Jean Prouvaire   Ryan Williams

* Lisa Capps on for Karen Elliot

Final show in L.A. Yet this was the show where -- after more or less everything seemed to go smoothly the previous two weeks -- things started coming apart at the seams.

Individual performances, re-iterating and summarizing the past two weeks (random notes below):

Randal Keith

As I've said just about every other time before, wow. I don't think Randal ever has an "off day" -- or if he has, I haven't been there for them. When he's on stage, he gives 100% and his performance is never less than stellar. For the most part, his performance is the same as SF and DC, but I did notice little tiny details that I didn't remember from SF or DC -- mainly where and how much emphasis to put on certain words, but also something as subtle as turning around and angrily grabbing Kevin David Thomas' arm while in the Bishop's doorway. I also don't remember Randal being so deliberate about pointing the broken leg of the chair at Javert, warning him not to come any closer toward the end of "The Confrontation" -- the glare he gives Javert, one that says "don't you dare", is kind of frightening. He's also a lot more emphatic in "The Confrontation", roaring "There NOTHING I won't dare!" Anyway, I absolutely love the depth he brings to the role, most of which I haven't seen from the understudies. As always, "Bring Him Home" was the show-stopper. He makes it sound so simple, yet he conveys so much complexity at the same time. Amazing.

He has an incredible range, and is one of very few people who can so cleanly perform the role and make it sound effortless. Funnily enough, having talked to him, Randal says this isn't his usual range -- it's a tenor role, whereas he considers himself a high baritone. But hell, he hits all the notes so easily!

Robert Hunt

Robert never fails to blow me away by the sheer intensity in his performance, and his fierce presence stands out by just being on stage -- particularly when takes those sharp, audible inhales before he starts singing. Damn. And I know Robert's "Javert's Suicide" was not this intense in S.F. or maybe even D.C. (though I know the latter was more so), but here in L.A., he's taken it to such new heights, acting with so much force that I'm afraid he might hurt himself just through his acting (well, aside from falling off the barricade). There is such a dramatic progression in Javert's determination and perseverance turning into obsession that you see that he never once considered failure an option, and when he finds his life spared by the man he's hated, it's impossible for him to come to terms with it.

Joan Almedilla

My opinion of Joan's Fantine has fallen back to the level of reluctant acceptance I had in San Francisco. She started looking better in D.C., but it seems that since then, she took the evolution of her portrayal too far, to the point where it's overacted and completely unnatural. Add to that the fact that she sings from her throat rather than her diaphragm when the notes go above an A or B. She sings rather nicely in the "Epilogue" and because she's not trying to do too much acting in the scene, she's rather nice to watch, too. But "Come to Me/Fantine's Death" is no longer as moving as it used to. Somehow, in her efforts to appear weak and fragile climbing out of bed and calling out to Cosette, she been trying much too hard and I can't really muster up much sympathy for Fantine. The same goes for "Fantine's Arrest" where she appears more to be having abnormal convulsions rather than appearing sick, and she does this very strange flailing movement down to the floor after she spits in Valjean's face.

Rachel Schier

Despite my complaint that she's not singing as strongly as she did in San Francisco, she is still one of the better Young Cosettes I have seen. Much of that is because of her acting, which is pretty damn good for a nine-year-old. She doesn't quite shake in fear as much as she did before, but it all comes through in her facial expression. As Mme. Thénardier is screaming about their mistake about taking her in, Rachel's face is contorted into this look of hatred and heartbreak over hearing them denigrating her mother. Then as Valjean is bargaining to take Cosette from the Thénardiers, she sits on the bench, very sadly fingering the shawl Valjean gave her, as if she'd never felt anything so nice before in her life. Then when M. and Mme. Thénardier separately come to cuddle her (especially when Mme. pinches her cheek), Rachel gets this look of  disgust that says, "Get away from me!" In short, I've loved watching the evolution of her acting skills in the past year. She's going to be a great actress.

(As a side note, I'm glad they've toned down the make-up to make her black eye less obvious, whenever that was. Yes, it makes you feel sorry for her, but the humongous black eye I've seen in other Young Cosettes were more distracting than anything else.)

Jennifer Butt

What I love about Jennifer is her ability to work the audience. She has an incredible sense of timing and milks every ounce of sarcasm and comedy when it is called for, and she is absolutely a terror when ordering Young Cosette around. She is practically screaming at the poor thing, and then turns around and is the sweetest mother to Young Eponine.

Norman Large

Norman, too, loves to work the audience. His sense of comedy surpasses those of other Thénardiers I've seen, and it's somewhat too bad that he's been directed to tone down some of his antics. But what he is able to do is terrific, and he's so good at portraying a conniving and shrewd man who thrives on gaining on other people's losses, and he is so one-track-minded that just the mere sight of money draws him to it like a moth to a flame. This would completely undermine the Thénardiers' teamwork if it weren't for Mme. Thénardier slapping him around to keep him on task. (Yet, he somehow is able to be the head of his thieving gang.)

The hilarity of his drunkenness is at its best during "The Bargain/Waltz of Treachery", where the scene begins with him letting out the loudest, most disgusting belch. Then he gets up and stumbles out of the darkness, the light piercing his eyes and he recoils as if he's thinking, "Oh, my corneas!" And then after Valjean sits at the table, he plops down across from him, head in his hand and suddenly has an air of absolute despair and consternation. Just the timing of the transformation is too funny. And then the fact that he stops crossing himself to scratch his butt or pick his wedgie or whatever the hell he's doing is probably the best new thing he's done.

Also at some point, they decided to have his wig deliberately start to come undone during "The Wedding Chorale", because you can tell that for the first couple minutes, he's holding his head very still to not disturb the single large bundle of curled hair, but then he lets loose and the curl starts bouncing up and down and swinging every time he moves his head. It just adds to the absurdity of the scene.

Anthony Skillman

As I've said before, he tends to be a little on the stiff side when he's on stage. It's not that he needs to actually move around when he's singing, but I'd just like for him to not look like he's locked out his legs and is staying put on his mark. Nonetheless, he expresses himself with a great deal of attitude in his voice that makes up for his stiffness (I love how he practically screams "Long live us!"), and he sings very well, too.

Melissa Lyons

My favorite Eponine of all time -- and yes, for those of you who knew me many years ago with my Lea Salonga fandom, Melissa surpasses Lea (gasp!). And I know there are some people who don't like Melissa's portrayal, but I think it just has a lot to do with preferences. I like Eponine to be very tomboyish -- to the point where she's reluctant to really show her feelings for Marius in a "girly" way, except for little hints here and there -- and that was why I loved Melissa's portrayal so much in D.C. -- because, there, she did let a tiny bit of vulnerability show but without betraying the tough, even dauntless, facade she's established. Unfortunately, much of that was gone here in L.A., perhaps because she's working with a different Marius and the chemistry is a little different with Dan. Nonetheless, the end of of "On My Own" is heartbreaking, when she re-affirms that she loves him at the end: all of her frustration, anguish, and realization that Marius will never be hers comes through in just those few words. There was also a moment in "A Little Fall of Rain" where she paused slightly before pleading, "comfort me", and for the time being, that tomboyish exterior fell away.

Melissa also has the strongest voice I think I've ever heard for Eponine -- powerful, extremely clean, and not over-adorned with vibrato (and when she did add vibrato, it didn't compromise the pitch at all). I'd maybe like to see (and hear) a bit more emotion in the first verse or so of "On My Own" (not the intro), but the second half is where most of the emotion is anyway.

Victor Wallace

Victor is still my favorite Enjolras. The key to his success is in his voice -- not just his singing, which is so wonderful to listen to, but the way in that he uses his voice. He conveys so much passion and a longing to right the social injustice that pervades Paris. Everything from his posture to the delivery of his lines communicates that he's grabbing this lion by the head and won't give up until one of them wins. He's determined without being too forceful, fearless but not rash. He commands immediate attention from his comrades, especially when he is trying to keep everyone on task ("The enemy may be regrouping! Hold yourselves in readiness!"), standing at the base of the barricade and holding up his gun as he addresses them.

He sounded so much better in this show than on Saturday because he was sick earlier in the week, though he said afterwards that he's still a little under the weather. I imagine it can't be easy to want to give it all you've got, but your body just won't allow it. He still sounded great -- just a tad bit cautious when it came to some of the higher notes.

Daniel Bogart

My opinion of Dan's Marius has grown over the five performances I've seen him in. Yes, there are occasions when he tries far too hard to be dramatic and forces himself to sing loud, at which point he adds too much vibrato, causing his pitch to waver too much, especially when the vowels don't resonate right. But at least this doesn't happen all the time, and the rest of his singing is actually quite nice. "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" has become one of my favorite scenes to watch from him because even though there are times he has to project out, he doesn't try too hard and his voice is full of emotion. The survivor's guilt he feels is compounded by the haunted look he gets on his face when he sees the ghosts of his friends -- and it's quite effective the way in which he sees them yet stares through them at the same time.

He's also very romantic in the way he interacts with Leslie, especially in "A Heart Full of Love" when they're realizing their feelings for each other. In particular is toward the end, while Eponine is interjecting her despair, where he and Leslie stare into each other's eyes with their hands meeting in front of them, and their fingers slowly intertwine. This has probably been the first time in which I felt there was a strong connection between their characters and that they do belong together. He also is very loving -- in a close friend kind of way -- toward Eponine during "A Little Fall of Rain", and a lot of that was just in the way he held her in his arms. She was begging him to "comfort" her, and he was doing just that. It broke my heart to watch that.

Leslie Henstock

Having seen Leslie in this role since L.A. in 2004, I've come to appreciate the depth she brings to the role, but she conveys most of it in her face, rather than through her voice or movements on stage. When I first saw her, I could only go by her voice, which was nice for the most part, but she could sometimes sound a little shrill in some of the higher notes, like she's trying to reach those notes without sufficient support. But it seems she has better days when it comes to that, and this performance was much better than on Saturday. Oddly, this show followed a matinee, so she'd already done a full show just a few hours before. So, fatigue is probably not a factor. In any case, her voice was for the most part gorgeous to listen to, and even though she hit the highest notes, they sounded ever so slightly strained.

When I am able to sit close enough to the stage to see her facial expressions, she is so enjoyable to watch. From her exuberance in her solo in "In My Life" to her striking out from being so shielded to the gentle affection she has toward both Marius and Valjean, it all seems very natural.

Random notes: