Tacoma Musical Playhouse
My heart succumbed to the memorable voice of Jean Valjean as he sang his final song, surrounded by ghosts of the French impoverished.
Tacoma Musical Playhouse performed the stage production Les Misérables, based on the novel by Victor Hugo. This vocally-demanding pop opera was directed and choreographed by Jon Douglas Rake.
The drama is set in various locations in France, beginning in Digne in 1815 and ending in Paris in 1832. The plot follows the protagonist Jean Valjean, played by James Walters, whose life between these time spans is a journey of redemption.
Valjean is released from prison after 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. He’s given a ticket-of-leave by the police official Javert, played by John Cooper, who dehumanizes him by referring to him as prisoner 24601.
This ticket’s stamp of criminalization makes it impossible to find work. However, the Bishop of Digne offers Valjean shelter, but Valjean steals the Bishop’s silver and is caught by police. The Bishop saves him by claiming that he gave Valjean the silver, and Valjean breaks parole to seek a better life.
Although Valjean is central, other characters also bring virtuosity. Fantine, played by Alena Menefee, is a crestfallen mother forced into prostitution to pay for medical care for her daughter, Cosette. This character reminds the audience of the desperation the poor had to endure to survive and save their loved ones.
Cosette, played by Lauren Nance, matures into a delicate woman whose heart full of love attracts Marius, played by Bruce Haasl, who comrades with politically-minded students to prepare a revolution. These two characters lighten the story with a love-at-first-sight subplot in a 19th century world of despair.
Every player was superb. The energy released through vocal and acting performance sent me soaring to a castle on a cloud.
Memorable songs included Walters’s solo performance of “Bring Him Home,” in which he used falsetto technique to demonstrate heightened points of emotion for Valjean as he prayed to God to let Marius live so he can be with Cosette.
The renowned song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” is another musical moment in which Fantine laments the bitter life she’s fallen into. Menefee’s vibrato echoed across the theater, a cry for happiness in the hell Fantine’s living.
Another shatter of emotion is established by the character Eponine, played by April Villanueva Santo Domingo, in the song “On My Own.” Eponine, daughter to the comical, yet corrupted, Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, sings of her unrequited love for Marius. Domingo didn’t falter in using the stage as her playground, and exposed the character’s vulnerability through her nostalgic expression of this composition.
The small size of the theater didn’t hinder its ability to bring astonishment, and its $1.2 million renovation in lighting and sound highlighted the moments of greatest tension.
Although there were points in vocalization that were unstable, the players covered this well with emotional vivacity.
Les Misérables demonstrates the hardships and strengths of the human spirit living one day more.
I give Les Misérables: 5/5 Stars
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