Les Miserables at the GCT

Jul. 27, 2013
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I really don't like Les Miserables. Upton Sinclair thought it was one of the greatest novels ever written, but I like Sinclair's work much better. That being said there were subtle complexities to Victor Hugo's novel that render a striking portrait of history. Some of that complexity is admirably captured in the musical adaptation which debuted in Paris in 1980. Since then, it's been a huge money maker for people with money that is seen by people with money. It's the fact that rich people are exchanging money thinking about how awful human misery was back then when there is still a lot of staving in the world that could be helped by that money . . . I guess that's the problem I have with it. 

But for all of the problems I have with the musical, it's actually pretty good. It's long, but it's pretty good. Just a little over a half a year after a big budget film adaptation of the musical grossed over $400 million at the box office, Greendale Community Theatre presents its staging of the classic. To their credit, the GCT is using its production to raise awareness and funds for Hunger Task Force, which is undeniably a really, really important organization.

The production itself looks very, very good. Respectably immersive costuming washes across a  suitably moody set with decent lighting in something looking distinctly unlike most people's conception of what a community theatre production might look like. This is Greendale Community Theatre, so they're going to get it right visually. And though the orchestra lacks some of the technical brilliance to bring across the full sweeping enormity of the story, there are more than enough performances on stage that make this a really good trip to the theatre. 

Stephen Pfisterer has a very dynamic presence onstage as the repeatedly wronged Jean Valjean. He's a very charismatic individual onstage. Doug Clemons also cuts a very heroic figure as young revolutionary Enjolras. It's a very large and sweeping story that any ensemble is going to have difficulty living up to, but GCT holds it go ether remarkably well. Their performance of One Day More at the close of Act One has an impressive emotional vastness to it. The production occasionally hits respectably impressive moments like that in an overall staging that rarely falters. 

There are quite a few standout performances. Peyton Oseth has quite a voice for Cosette. Lissa deGuzman has a phenomenal voice as well . . . and the dramatic end of her performance as Eponine had a really intense gravity to it. 8 year-old Loralei Madson does a brilliant job in the role of the wily youth Gavroche.  Every now and again Amber Smith or Mara McGhee make a sharply stylish impression from the rather large horde of the nameless ensemble. My favorite moments here, however, were Amy Brooks and the nigh-ubiquitous Robby McGhee as the Thénardiers. McGhee has racked-up the kind of stage time that has come to support a remarkable kind of raw talent for stage comedy that really stands-out here. I don't recall ever having seen Brooks perform before, but the fact that she's able to make as strong an impression onstage next to McGhee speaks to a really attractive personality that she's able to bring out in the role. 

In a way, Brooks and McGhee's performances kind of dull some of the impact of a righteous Jean Valjean taking in the young, overworked Cosette from her slavery in their Inn. It was a well-balanced production for the most part, but those comic scenes at Thénardiers' inn were so much fun that they kind of overshadow some of the serious drama for me. As they come-in towards the middle of everything, this isn't really a very serious problem. Perhaps a bigger problem here is that deGuzman's big crescendo as Eponine is such an overwhelmingly compelling dramatic moment that the rest of Act Two seems like falling action when it really shouldn't. But even with the overwhelming power of Eponine's final moments, the overall momentum of the production sails along well enough to feel cohesive.

Greendale Community Theatre's production of Les Miserables runs through August 3rd at the Greendale High School Auditorium. For ticket reservations, seat yourself. 

For more information, visit GCT Online. 


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