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Monday, 30 September 2013 22:20

Enjoying misery: 'Les Miserables' at Alpha Players

Written by Bob Wilcox
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Enjoying misery: 'Les Miserables' at Alpha Players
alphaplayers.org

I've seen "Les Miserables" several times at the Fox, in two versions, and a couple of times at The Muny. But the current production by the Alpha Players of Florissant is the first I've seen by a community theatre group. It will not be the last. It's a daunting project, and I hope it continues to be done as well as they're doing it at Alpha Players.

The large and enthusiastic opening night audience reflected, I think, both the success of the production and the popularity of the show itself. I'm in the minority in the latter regard. Three hours is more time than I really want to spend with this story, and the second act always makes me impatient to get to the end. Original author Victor Hugo has certainly supplied a pretty good tale, and perhaps in reading the novel it's easier to suspend disbelief that so many of these people would keep running into each other over the years and all over the map of France. And a novel allows for more depth in character development, which lessens the easy self-pity and melodramatic thrills that you get when this epic is condensed for the stage.

But director Sharon Cotner has handled this sprawling story intelligently, and she draws variety and liveliness from the large cast. Mike Blackwood gets a fine sound from the orchestra, and vocal director Becky Self Thorn has blended the voices well. The occasional choreography comes from Monette Dennis and Madison Dennis. Director Cotner, Stephanie Draper, and Brian Biernbaum have put together an ingenious unit set of facades, steps, and levels that functions well for most scenes, though it's not on a revolve, so we only hear the death of Gavroche – fine work by young Ronan Ryan – we don't see it. The wedding scene is played before black drapes, which shows off the colorful costumes by Barbara Langa and Kathy Slavik. For some reason, lighting designer Stephanie Draper keeps the stage in twilight much of the time, with individual spotlights that often aren't as bright as they need to be.

I hope I see more of Keith Boyer, who plays Jean Valjean. His singing of Valjean's high tenor is as fine as any I've heard; I suspect he may have operatic training. As Javert, Danny Brown's voice is not quite at that level, but his command of the implacable policeman's rigid morality and ultimate collapse is solid. Gruff-voiced Bob Efken rules the stage when his Monsieur Thenardier is on, assisted by NoreenAnn Rhodes as Madame T. As ill-fated Fantine, Heather Matthews has a lovely voice which I wish she'd project more fully. Margaret Borgmeyer does sing out and gives us another fine performance as Cosette, and Jessica Kahn fully elicits our pity as love-lorn Eponine with an admirably clearly spoken performance. Luke Steingruby makes a sweet-voiced Marius, and Jeremy Hyatt is a commanding Enjolras, leader of the student revolutionaries.

If you're a "Les Miz" fan, Alpha Players has a production of it you'll enjoy.  For more information: alphaplayers.org.

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