Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
Director Scott Fisher knew he had “an embarrassment of riches” in the talent available for SRO Productions III’s presentation of the musical Les Miserables, mounted to celebrate the company’s 30th year.
If you have seen any staged or film version of Les Mis, as it’s fondly called, it would be best to leave your preconceptions at the door. This is definitely different, but no less compelling or memorable, even without revolving set pieces. Can you say “phenomenal”?
Fisher opted to use every inch of usable space in the Shorr Family Firehouse Stage in Johnson City, including the spaces between the café tables where the audience sits. Peopled by factory girls, prostitutes, reprobates, street people, student revolutionaries and the principals and secondary characters, this long show with a cast of 50 never flags for a minute. It is immersive theatre at its best.
Our hero (Jean Valjean) is played by Colin Wood, a dramatic tenor with sweeping range and great emotional control. His famous solo. “Bring Him Home.” is delivered with pathos and beauty.
Andrew Simek (Marius) reminded me of a handsome Conan O’Brien, with a velvet voice. His tribute to his fallen comrades, “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables,” is heartbreaking, and his voice is so beautiful that you never want him to stop singing.
Soprano Hanna Truman (the adult Cosette), is lovely and sings with clarity and focus. Caitlin McNichol as Cosette’s downtrodden and sickly mother, Fantine, who entrusts her daughter to Valjean’s care, has an unmistakable love of what she is doing on stage. When she sings “I Dreamed a Dream,” with soaring vocals and an expressive face, you forget the existence of Susan Boyle.
Cosette’s unspoken rival for the love of Marius, Eponine, is portrayed with great depth, and with one of the most gorgeous voices in the whole show, by the petite Loren Kovacik. So many amazing performances, but hers definitely mesmerizes.
Gene Czebiniak’s policeman (Javert) is menacing, and his voice is terrific. The multi-talented contributor to this amazing show also is its set designer. His three-sided set offers many places for the action to take place against a backdrop of images that evoke the Gustav Brione etchings that inspired the now iconic logo for the British and Broadway versions of the show.
Wherever you sit, you get a slightly different view of the musical, which makes me want to see it at least one more time, but that’s not the only reason why. It’s just because it’s great. Kudos also to the lighting and sound designers, respectively Bill Nurse and Steve Samsonik, who had a fine line to walk, always with the possibility of feedback, acoustic and visibility issues, and to stage manager, Bonnie DeForest, for keeping track of the needs of this huge cast.
Notable for their animated and perfectly over-the-top performances of the just awful innkeeper and his wife, the Thenardiers, are Mickey Woyshner and Shirley Goodman. Both have great voices and presence, and their physical comedy is hysterical. Oh, you love to hate them! Thanks to the intimate staging, I got to see Woyshner’s mercenary character extract a filling from the mouth of a dead revolutionary on the floor literally two feet before me.
The young Cosette and Eponine are played alternately by Norah Ford and Kara Smyk. Both girls handle their proximity to the audience with poise, and when they sing, sing very well. Youngster Collin Pickett, who alternates with Johnny Zareski in the role of Gavroche, also performed with confidence.
The supporting cast of this show gives 100 percent, and each person stays in character, even when they might land in the lap of someone in the house, or snatch a program from an audience member’s hand. (They really do get that close!) The looks of surprise and delight from the audience added to the fun, and you can’t help but raise your glass at the end of the ensemble number “Master of the House.” There are so many tender, heart-rending moments throughout the show that the comic relief of the supporting cast is really important, so congratulations to all.
With that, I want to give a shout-out to everyone in the cast, thus far not mentioned: Sam Westover (Bishop), Julia Mahar (Locket Crone), Wendy Germond (Hair Hag), Patrick Tombs (Foreman & Feuilly), Bill Snyder (Bamatgabois), Craig Hawkins (Army Officer), Brett Nichols (Enjolras), Erik Tofte (Combeferre), Josh Smith (Confeyrac), Eli Carlin (Joly), Nick Ponterio (Grantaire), Caleb Park (Lesgles) and Leander Tanner (Jean Prouvaire). Hat tips also to Maureen Dancesia. Leigh Dolan, Jill Green, Chrissy Ryder, Melissa Shipman and Margaret Smith (Factory Girls); multi-tasker Dominique Lazaros (Factory Girl and Prostitute) and to the other “working girls”: Corinne Alman, Jess Brookes, Annie Fabiano, Megan Germond, Annie Graham, Sammy Lewis, Alexandra Mendoza, Chloe Solan and Kelly Weiss. Congrats also to Rick Kumpon (Brujon), Chris DaCosta (Babet), Mike Clark (Claquesou), Reidan Pitoressi (Montparnasse) and the Street People (Mary Donovan, Samantha Heatherman, Eileen Nord, Cheryl Ryder and Judy Shannon). My apologies in advance if I left anyone out. You were all wonderful!
Les Mis, for the few uninitiated, is a musical version of Victor Hugo’s epic novel of the events leading up to, and following, a student revolution in 19th century Paris. Music is by Claude-Michel Schonberg, book by Schonberg and Alain Boublil and lyrics be Herbert Kretzmer. SRO’s production opened this past weekend (Jan. 17-19) to sold-out houses at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage, 46-48 Willow St., Johnson City, and continues for two more weekends (Jan. 24-26 and Jan. 31, Feb. 1-2). For tickets ($22 adult/$20 students and seniors), go to www.sroproductionsonline.com or call 800-838-3006, but do it soon. I guarantee it: You’ll be blown away.