Riverside Dinner Theater Les MiserablesBy Amy Berlin • Aug 14th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Riverside Dinner Theater: (Info) (Web)
Riverside Dinner Theater, Fredericksburg, VA
Through November 24th
3:00, with intermission
$55-$60/$50 Seniors/$40 Child/$20-$45 Show Only
Reviewed August 10th, 2013
David Michael Felty IS Jean Valjean, the escaped parolee at the center of Les Miserables. His breathtaking vocals and his powerful, emotional acting make Riverside Center Dinner Theater’s production an absolutely riveting experience. Even rabid fans of Les Miserables will see unexpected heartbreaking and exciting moments in Felty’s performance, and just hearing that beautiful voice sing the beloved and dynamic score is an experience not to be missed. In fact, Felty is so stunning in this role, that the stretches in the play when he is not on stage pale in comparison.
Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Shonberg’s Les Miserables ran for sixteen years on Broadway and is currently the fourth-longest-running musical in Broadway history. The show has spawned numerous revivals (including an upcoming one in March 2014), tours, and a movie. It is easy to see why the musical is so revered. Based on the sprawling novel by Victor Hugo, the show has a fast-moving plot that swiftly covers decades in less than three hours and involves a broad range of the human experience. Loss, redemption, faith, love, courage, longing, and hope are set against a backdrop of the revolutionary ferment of early 19th century France. Valjean strives to become an honest man, while Javert, a police inspector, refuses to ignore the parole violation and seeks to bring Valjean to justice, even as they are both swept into a student uprising. The beautiful and epic score and lyrics by Shonberg and Herbert Kretzmer manage to propel the story forward without sacrificing any of the vigorous emotion.
Watching Les Miserables is often a cathartic experience. And Patrick A’Hearn’s production is no different. While it is not perfect, the characters’ emotional dilemmas hit the gut, and by the end, the tears will flow.
While Felty leads the emotional charge, he is not alone in his ability to bring this powerful story to life. David Pope plays Marius, a revolutionary who falls in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter Cosette, with a thoroughly believable heart on his sleeve. Pope’s voice is spectacular, and his “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is an emotional and aural highlight. In addition, Pope creates a believable chemistry with Cosette (Whitney Hollis), and their duets are lovely and heartfelt. Thomas Adrian Simpson as Javert brings a glorious voice and intensity to his performance, although his awkward physicality tends to undermine his authority at times. Joshua Otten is an appealing and brash Gavroche, and the male ensemble (under the musical direction of Jason J. Michael) shines in the students’ numbers, sounding sensational and embodying the epic emotions without overacting.
Other performers were less successful, giving the show a slightly uneven feel. Both Erin Miele Huss (Fantine) and Caitlin Shea (Eponine) possess admirable voices, but their modern diction and movement seem out-of-place, and neither is able to navigate the full range of their character’s emotions. Both were also hampered by ill-considered costume choices, with Fantine in a distracting wig and Eponine in modern boots and a flowing coat that did not fit her purported male disguise. Thenardier and Madame Thenardier, the innkeeper and his wife, were approached by Bill Upshaw and Carol Hagy as the comic relief of the play, and they did indeed evoke giggles; however, these characters can also be disturbing and menacing, and these colors were missing.
Like his cast, A’Hearn’s staging and his design team (Brian C. Barker (set), Gaye Law (costumes), and Phil Carlucci and Nicky Mahon (lighting)) were inconsistent. For every stunning visual like the end of “One Day More,” where the ensemble moves in slow motion bathed in a sunset-colored light, while the principals are arranged downstage in varying tableaus, there is a misstep, like the opening prisoner sequence, where mimed tools, linear blocking, and ill-timed and distracting spot lights cheapened the effect. Throughout the show, the stage combat in particular is weak, looking stagey and lacking the emotional punches that should have been present. Luckily, A’Hearn and his designers did their strongest work in the second act, and the ending is incredibly powerful. Of note, the staging, lighting and effects of Javert’s final scene is quite moving; the Thenardier’s wedding costumes are silly fun; and the barricade is a stunning set piece, especially when paired with the turntable, enabling A’Hearn to incorporate levels and interest which are lacking at times in the first act.
While Les Miserables was not a flawless production, it was a truly satisfying one. Felty’s performance alone, one that spans the full arc of the story and brings together the play’s multiple themes, is enough to make even the stoniest heart tremble, and the vocal prowess of the entire cast will make you want to hear the people sing again and again.
This is my 10th production as a director at Riverside Center, and it is fitting that it be a show I am most closely associated with. Having had the honor to have been part of the original Broadway cast led by the masterful direction of Trevor Nunn and John Caird, I am delighted to direct the show for the first time here at Riverside Center. I feel privileged and lucky to have been a part of theater history and a show honored with so many awards – seven Tony Awards including Best Musical. I learned quite a bit in my three plus years with Les Miz, and it is rewarding to be able to share those experiences with so many up and coming talents who were not even born when the show first surfaced.
Les Misérables has been referred to as grand, epic, glorious and a phenomenon – a musical theater extravaganza that brought Broadway back into the good graces of American popular culture and remains a unique masterwork almost thirty years after its opening. But perhaps its greatest achievement is in its simplicity and how it conveys the themes of love and redemption which are universal. The rich, multi-layered musical score by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg has an amazing ability to capture Victor Hugo’s sprawling portrait of France at a tumultuous turning point in that nation’s history, and audiences respond emphatically to the incredible story which it tells. That story is still relevant today, portraying a society desperate for renewal and change, and depicting a journey of human beings struggling for acceptance, coping with longing and loss, and making choices that define them as individuals. The lyrics speak to the world: It is time for us all to decide who we are.
And now my own journey through the Les Misérables experience comes full circle and feels complete as I approach this production as an Artistic Director as well, with the responsibility of not only striving for artistic excellence but bringing forth a production that the Riverside family and the community can be proud of. I ask our audiences to “join in our crusade” and “relive the dream.”
Many thanks to this incredible production team, cast and crew. You have all committed and done yeoman’s work. Thank you for allowing me to relive so many wonderful memories as I have observed the process and been moved by your dedication and compassion.
To love another person is to see the face of God.
Photos provided by Riverside Dinner Theater
- Jean Valjean: David Michael Felty
- Javert, A Policeman: Thomas Adrian Simpson
- The Bishop Of Digne: John Hollinger
- Fantine: Erin Miele Huss
- The Foreman: Thomas Cleary
- Bamatbois: Tommy Mcneal
- Fauchelevant: John Hollinger
- Little Cosette, Fantine’s Daughter: Alexa Norbeck
- Thenardier, An Innkeeper: Bill Upshaw
- Madame Thenardier, The Innkeeper’s Wife: Carol Hagy
- Young Eponine (Silent), The Thenardiers’ Daughter: Rhianna Degeorge
- Gavroche, An Urchin: Joshua Otten
- Eponine, Grown Up: Caitlin Shea
- Cosette, Grown Up: Whitney Hollis
- Thenardier’s Gang
- Montparnasse: Ryan Lynch
- Babet: Cody Heuer
- Brujon: Ian Lane
- Claquesous: John Hollinger
- Enjolras: Anthony Nuccio
- Marius: David Pope
- Combeferre: Thomas Cleary
- Feuilly: James Bock
- Courfeyrac: Cody Heuer
- Joly: Gannon Sims
- Grantaire: Tommy Mcneal
- Lesgles: Kevin Cleary
- Jean Prouvaire: Anthony Logan Cole
- Women’s Ensemble Of Factory Workers, Whores, Drinkers, The Poor, And Wedding Guests: Julie Baird, Melynda Burdette, Elizabeth Butler, Jessie Croke, Andrea Detar, Mary Anne Furey, Maxine Gillespie, Valerie Roche
- Understudies (Understudies Never Substitute For Listed Players Unless Announced At Performance Time)
- Jean Valjean: Ian Lane
- Javert: Anthony Logan Cole, Thomas Cleary
- Fantine: Julie Baird, Valerie Roche
- Cosette: Mary Anne Furey
- Eponine: Michaela Kelley, Mary Anne Furey
- Marius: Tommy Mcneal, Cody Heuer
- Thenardier: Robert Beard, Anthony Logan Cole
- Madame Thenardier: Melynda Burdette, Maxine Gillespie
- Enjolras: James Bock, Thomas Cleary
- Grantaire: Ryan Lynch, Kevin Cleary
- Gavroche: Dante Durso
- Young Cosette/Young Eponine: Julianna Robinson
- Men’s Ensemble Swing: Colby Leroy
- Women’s Ensemble Swings: Keri Durrett, Amber French
- Produced by Rollin E. Wehman
- Directed by Patrick A’Hearn
- Musical Direction by Jason J. Michael
- Costume Design/Coordination: Gaye Law
- Production Manager: Carole Shrader
- Associate Director and Musical Staging by Penny Ayn Maas
- Lighting Design: Nicky Mahon
- Technical Director: Phil Carlucci
- Scenic Design by Brian C. Barker
- Scenic Artist: Matthew P. Westcott
- Stage Manager: Ben Feindt
Disclaimer: Riverside Dinner Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9698.
Amy Berlin has a degree in theatre performance from the University of Maryland, and is currently living in Richmond, Virginia.