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Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia, presented Les Misérables School Edition to the Cappies Critics on April 5, 2024. Here are the top two Cappies Critic reviews.

Emily Reisman

McLean High School


In 19th century Paris, rebellion is brewing. The oppressed huddle behind barricades and aim their weapons: the piercing gunshots, a cry for freedom. Yorktown High School’s production of Les Misérables School Edition masterfully blended iconic features of the musical with their own unique touches, creating a distinct performance of the famous story.


Les Misérables first appeared as a French novel by Victor Hugo in 1862. The story was later converted into the renowned musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, debuting at Palais des Sports in 1980. In 1985, Herbert Kretzmer created an English rendition of the lyrics, originally appearing in London.


Set in 19th century France, the show follows Jean Valjean (Matthew Aslaksen) after he escapes from a nineteen-year prison sentence for stealing bread. Though Valjean is free from jail, he cannot escape Javert (Colin Riley), an unrelenting guard determined to apprehend him, and the injustices embedded within France. Agreeing to join the June Rebellion alongside his adopted daughter Cosette’s (Alannah Hjelm) prospective husband Marius (Drew Wright), Valjean must fight against prejudice toward the impoverished and make the sacrifices needed for liberation. 


Aslaksen depicted Valjean’s initial cynicism with an aggressive cadence to the voice and indignant posture, displaying an impressive vocal range from a low tenor to a high falsetto. Aslaksen’s transition into compassionate gestures and a gentler voice showcased Valjean’s growing benevolence toward humanity, illuminating the process of earning redemption.


Riley’s baritone vocals embodied the imposing Javert, the deep tone a commanding presence. The rigid stance and purposeful stride was authoritative, differentiating Javert from the rebels and characterizing him as a threat. Riley’s cracking resolve before Javert’s death portrayed an unseen vulnerability, unveiling new depth to the character.


Bella Houston’s performance as Marius’ friend Eponine was entrancing. Houston depicted a hopeless, unrequited love through lingering gazes and wavering cracks in the vocals, the intense longing contrasting well with Wright’s cheerful obliviousness. The juxtaposition between Houston’s powerful tone versus the soft lilt during Eponine’s death scene was poignant, a heart wrenching contrast that amplified the sorrow of the moment.


Yorktown High School’s Pit Orchestra was an elevating addition to a show told entirely through song with the live music enhancing each scene. Orchestra members successfully played multiple instruments, their diligence helping every song to be as empowering or heartbreaking as possible. The use of uncommon instruments evoked intrigue, such as the crooning sound of the flugelhorn (Nyx Hendrey and Ben Fillmore) and the percussive rattling of the ratchet (Lia Sylvester and Olivia Plimpton).


Keya Sikotra, Lauren Hydrick, Anna Lapidus, and Sofia Spugnardi’s lighting designs made every event vivid. Spotlights were utilized to emphasize a character’s nuances, as displayed in Javert’s death scene. Javert’s inky shadow accompanied him during his farewell ballad, visually representing how disconnected he was from himself and making that final fatal leap off the edge even more dramatic. Colors were used to illustrate the mood, ranging from a purple dreaminess to the desaturated yellows of injustice and the assertive red of patriotism. The team’s attention to detail was especially evident in their choice to model lighting after Caravaggio’s painting The Calling of St. Matthew. The foggy, dimmed gold brought an equal sense of hope and longing.


TJ Schultz, Natalie Piersall, and Paisley York’s sound design livened the environment, fierce gunshots echoing the chaos of war and dreary rain pattering down. The use of surround sound was captivating, as the audience was immersed in each scene.


Yorktown High School’s Les Misérables School Edition was bold in its passionate performances and distinctive choices, bridging a historical story with the timeless principles of freedom.

Amelia Rizzo

Wakefield High School


At the End of the Day, what makes someone a “good man?” Yorktown High School’s production of Les Misérables School Edition didn’t just reveal the answer to this question, it instilled it into the hearts of every audience member.


Beginning as a 1862 Victor Hugo novel of the same name, Les Misérables premiered as a musical — written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg — in France in 1980. Quickly gaining momentum, the musical has won more than 70 major theatre awards.


Les Misérables follows convict-turned-gentleman, Jean Valjean, who breaks parole after spending 19 years in prison for the simple crime of stealing a loaf of bread. Determined to become a better man, Valjean adopts Cosette, fulfilling the dying wish of her mother, Fantine. As Valjean runs from his past — and the number branding him, 24601 — their paths become inextricably intertwined with the revolutionaries of the 1832 June Rebellion.


With the power to inspire even the most indifferent of hearts, the cast and crew of this production filled the audience with a glorious combination of laughter, bated breaths, and agony.


From battered prisoner to tender father figure, Matthew Aslaksen as Jean Valjean commanded the stage with skill and grace. Immeasurable range and a knack for using just the right facial expressions brought Aslaksen’s performance to an unimaginable level. On the other side of the coin was stoic, self-righteous Javert (Colin Riley). In addition to possessing a voice like velvet, Riley’s execution of Javert’s suicide scene was unforgettable. In a daring feat that would scare away most actors, Riley leapt fearlessly off the towering platform, flying backwards with arms flung outwards and face still full of despair. Panicked cries rang out as shock rippled through the audience.


Agony. It's the only word that fully encompasses the heartbreaking depiction of unrequited love Bella Houston as Éponine demonstrated. Without compromising Houston’s vivid and silky smooth vocals, every note was infused with a perfect spoonful of emotion. Longing. Sobs. Admiration.


After seeing Yorktown High School’s production of Les Misérables, it is impossible to imagine anyone other than Ryan Schimenti playing the great “Master of the House,” Thénardier. Schimenti’s hysterical physical comedy and flawless character voice had the audience in an uproar.


Filling the show with spirit, warmth, and a fiery determination, the Students of the ABC Café raised their voices in a defiant swell. With clear comradery, a call for revolution, and the devastatingly beautiful chorus of the fallen, they reminded the audience of their humanity.


From A Little Fall of Rain to thunderous gunshots, Yorktown High School’s Sound Crew, TJ Schultz, Natalie Piersall, and Paisley York, demonstrated exquisite timing and impressive problem solving. To cue each cast member to the gunshot at which they were supposed to die, they engineered a special system. While the audience heard the loud banging of gunshots, the actors onstage heard something else entirely: numbers signaling their cues. The production’s Light Crew — Keya Sikotra, Lauren Hydrick, Anna Lapidus, and Sofia Spugnardi — enhanced each scene even more. Brilliant flashes were flawlessly timed with every gunshot and Javert’s dark silhouette against the backdrop during his suicide scene perfectly reflected his desperation and inner turmoil.


Vivacious and heart-wrenching, Yorktown High School’s production of Les Misérables School Edition left those it touched dreaming a dream of hope.


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