Lake Braddock Secondary School
In today's society, burdened with bloodshed, famine, and discord, finding a genuinely good person can feel impossible. St. Andrew's Episcopal School's production of Les Misérables demonstrates the virtue in humankind through solid performances, quality ensemble work, and satisfactory technical elements.
Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, Les Misérables, was converted to a French musical in 1980 and appeared in English by 1985. The original Broadway production received eight Tony awards, including the coveted best musical. Les Misérables, or Les Mis, is the world's second-longest-running musical and has been performed in 42 countries.
Les Misérables traces Jean Valjean's transformation from a disreputable thief to a respected elder. Ada Shin played Valjean admirably, committing to each contrasting emotion the challenging role demands. Shin portrayed the often-serene man with ease, shining in musical numbers, especially the falsetto in "Bring Him Home." Juxtaposing Valjean's calm was Jonas Blum's aggression in the role of Javert, the inspector attempting to capture Valjean. The difference between the two characters was evident due to Shin and Blum's opposing movement and vocal choices.
While the two leads grappled with each other, supporting actors connected the remainder of the story. For instance, Gabriel Martinez and Charlotte Lobring performed as Marius and Cosette, respectively. These performers exhibited consistent individual control throughout the show while simultaneously blending vocally, captivating the audience. Independently, Martinez's intonation and vibrato amazed during "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," an emotionally demanding number. Likewise, Lobring's sustained dedication to staying in character brought both intensity and subtlety when required. Joined with Mareina Mitchell's Eponine, the couple utilized pleasing harmonies in "A Heart Full of Love," clearly communicating the inner workings of their connections.
Catherine Colbert stood out as Fantine, an innocent woman with a harrowing experience. Colbert conveyed the character's sentiments expertly, especially during "I Dreamed a Dream." Likewise, Ashley Antezana portrayed Gavroche with high energy, matching the role's youthful nature and elevating the ensemble's liveliness. Rhian Williams and Lara Alarapon beautifully displayed the comedy of their characters, Thénardier and Madame Thénardier. Alarapon and Williams were an excellent pairing of actors, humorously bouncing off each other effectively.
Technically, Les Misérables demands complexity and cooperation on all fronts, a necessity St. Andrew's met successfully. Paramount to a musical is orchestral accompaniment, and St. Andrew's five-person band enhanced the show with a live performance. In addition, the use of Walker Borgmann's projections aided understanding of the often-elaborate script. Contrasting sky colors reflecting the time and messages explained jumps in location and brought clarity otherwise lacking in the text.
Les Misérables united entertaining acting with stagecraft to display the generosity of an ordinary man. Average humans who express selflessness in the face of catastrophe, like Jean Valjean, convey the natural goodness of which we are all capable. St. Andrew's Episcopal School's performance succeeds in leaving the audience with greater hope for humanity's restoration and is sure to delight fans of the show and theatre newcomers alike.
Albert Einstein High School
Set against the backdrop of the changing tides of the life of ex-convict Jean Valjean (Ada Shin), St. Andrew's Episcopal School's production of Les Misérables put on display the whole company's wide array of talents. With innovative use of special effects and effective use of limited space, St. Andrew's demonstrated their ingenuity through every aspect of the show.
The entire show was high-energy and mindful of tone. The very beginning thrusted the audience into the chain gang camp in Toulon where Valjean and his fellow convicts were doing backbreaking labor and receiving no mercy from the imposing policemen behind them.
Throughout the show, St. Andrew's used projections on a screen to the right of, as well as above, the stage in order to tell the audience where the scene was taking place. Considering this was such a complicated show, this made it much easier to ascertain the location of the scene. Individual set pieces, such as two walls placed on turntables set in the floor, were versatile. It was clear from the very beginning that the company received all they could out of their set, despite it being a small space.
Perhaps most impressive in the whole show was the vocal strength of the entire cast. Particularly noteworthy was Valjean's range on "Bring Him Home", a heartfelt prayer for the safety of Marius (Gabriel Martinez), and "Fantine's Death", the song Fantine (Catherine Colbert) sings to her daughter. Cosette (Charlotte Lobring) was a musical tour-de-force; every note resonated and was full of emotion that added to the overall performance immensely. During the show's several ensemble numbers, distinct harmony came through loud and clear.
Frequently stealing the show (and audience members' hearts) was Gavroche (Ashley Antezana), a little boy simply doing his best to help with a revolution undertaken by university students led by Enjolras (Leah Facciobene). The Thénardier couple (Rhian Williams and Lara Alarapon) provided necessary comic relief between more intense scenes. In particular, their hilarious "Master of the House" was a welcome distraction from the anxiety the audience felt for Valjean as he was pursued by the menacing, unforgiving Javert (Jonas Blum).
The audience could not help but sympathize with and root for Eponine (Mareina Mitchell), a lovelorn young girl who longed for Marius, although he loved Cosette. Creative staging was employed to demonstrate this disconnect. During one song, when Cosette and Marius were singing together, Eponine had no choice but to watch them over a wall, expressing her sorrow over Marius and Cosette's song. She later lamented her situation in a moving rendition of "On My Own".
The costumes in particular were also of note. Careful thought and consideration were present in the depressed clothing of the poor, the splendor of the suits of the pompous rich, and everyone in between.
All told, St. Andrew's Episcopal School's production of Les Misérables School Edition was a resourceful, poignant period piece that packed a punch. From beginning to end and from costumes to set to singing, every aspect of the show was emblematic of the talent, hard work, and dedication of everyone involved.