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The barricades have once again gone up on Broadway. Are they worth dropping everything and joining this time? The answer is a resounding "Oui!" Bring your flag.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

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BWW Reviews: LES MISERABLES Ignites Portland Players' Stage

Portland Players takes an adventurous step in opening its season with a grand production of the beloved Boubil-Schönberg classic, LES MISERABLES. Assembling a large cast and mounting an impressive staging, this eighty-six year-old company delivers a performance of passion and heart, if not perfection. And yet the flaws which emerge - sometimes the result of direction or casting, but mostly by-products of the limitations of the theatre space - cannot dim the impact of the performance.

LES MISERABLES is a show which requires strong musical values. Performed uncut with all the recitatives sung, as it was here, is a complex marathon. David Delano leads the fourteen musicians with an appreciation for the drama of the score and the colors of the music, and he goes for the big, panoramic sound - which is sometimes a problem in the very uneven house acoustic. Some ragged playing in Act One almost marred Fantine's death scene, but in general, the orchestra provided a bold canvas on which to let the story unfold.

Directors Michael Donovan and Delano opt for a narrative approach, always moving the action fluidly and with a good sense of pacing, and they create some memorable tableaux. Their staging, however, especially of the big vocal numbers, seems static and sometimes repetitious, directing characters to come down center and sing to the house. Moreover, one wishes they might have elicited from the very talented actors more inner emotion and subtler motivation. Nonetheless, many strong performances do emerge, and overall the level of vocal excellence is very high, indeed!

Zack Handlen proves to be a sympathetic Valjean with a firm, pleasingly affecting tenor. Other than a few uncomfortable vocal moments at the register break, he delivers Valjean's big numbers with power and beauty. Mark Dils plays Javert as a somewhat bland foil - a rigid bureaucrat, consumed not with vengeance so much as imprisoned by the rules of his own circumscribed world. He uses his lyrical baritone effectively and made a chilling impression in his suicide scene.

Michelle Melvin-Perry sings Fantine with a heartfelt beauty but her characterization is wooden. As her daughter Cosette, Rachel Henry uses her well-schooled soprano to lovely effect and conveys the girlish innocence of the character. Brie Roche delivers a vocally wrenching and largely credible performance as the ill-fated Eponine, and Sarah Thurston is a deliciously bawdy Madame Thenardier.

Among the principals, the two most complete performances, however, come from David Aaron Van Duyne's Marius and Jason Phillips' Thenardier. Marius need not be an ungrateful role (as Eddie Redmayne demonstrated in the recent movie), and, indeed, here in Van Duyne's hands, the young revolutionary takes on an heroic dignity and virility that are most compelling. Van Duyne sings with a secure velvety tenor, spinning lovely lyric phrases and finding the emotional color in the words and music. Phillips also brings his accomplished vocal technique to bear on Thenardier and manages to capture the mercurial, scheming wit of the character without going over the top.

Many of the other colorful roles in this epic tale are incisively portrayed. Schuyler White offers a serious, vocally secure Enjolras; Mark Barasso captures the alcoholic bravado of Grantaire, as well as the creepy lasciviousness of the Foreman; John Ambrose is a gentle Bishop of Digne and a contrastingly tough, street-wise Brujon; Evvy McGirr sings Young Cosette touchingly, and CJ Marenghi as Gavroche, despite struggles with the miking and some difficult staging, makes an appealing urchin.

In an excellent large ensemble tasked with creating a changing array of small roles throughout, young Drew Wells (Feuilly) and William Weeks (Combeferre), Kevin Reams (Bamatabois/Babet), and Jennine Cannizzo draw particular attention to their vocal-dramatic skills.

The set design by Tim Baker suits the scale of this work. Comprised of several multi-level units which later swivel to reveal the junk- sculptured rubble of the barricades, a high bridge with the sewer hidden below, and a few crucial props, it seamlessly serves all the locales of the play. Megan Bremermann outdoes herself with the costumes - which, though clearly on a budget - are inventive, evocative, and allow for numerous wardrobe changes for the large ensemble.

As lighting designer, Sue Finch is plagued by the vagaries of the ancient grid and presumably equally dated electrics of the building. She is, however, able to create a number of memorable effects, especially in the barricade scene and Javert's suicide, though the unevenness of the basic illumination and limitations of a single spot leave actors sometimes in shadow or forced to seek out the downstage hotspot. Similar challenges confront sound designer Sam Rinaldi, who strives to combat the dead spots, make the best of the house's fickle acoustics and do what he can to balance miked principals and unmiked ensemble.

Nevertheless, by the end of the performance, it seems churlish to be isolating these faults. One cannot help being swept up in the urgency of this timeless "opera" and plunged into the passion of its music and characters. And one cannot help but reflect on the courage of this venerable, little company to take on the challenge of so large a work and to acquit themselves with such conviction and credibility.

Photos courtesy of Portland Players

LES MISERABLES runs form September 26-October 19, 2014 at Portland Players, 420 Cottage Rd., South Portland, ME 207-799=7337

Article reprinted with permission from

What You Say

5 reviews, average rating: (4.0 Stars)

Anonymous: “Masterful!”

I saw this on the second night of its debut and it was amazing. The casting... more

Anonymous: “Spectacular!”

One word, Wow! Attended the matinee on March 19 and was overwhelmed by c... more

Sylvie Jean: “Wonderful!”

Saw it on the 15th March and was magical! The cast is great With incredib... more

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