Nothing ‘Misérable’ about Village Theatre’s latest spectacle

November 12, 2013

By Peter Clark

“Les Misérables” shines in Village Theatre, though the production’s eager whimsy whisks away some wonder.

The opening baritone notes of the French chain gang song “Look Down” sets an unshakable tone of dejection and resilience, the two largest themes of the prestigious production. Following protagonist Jean Valjean’s release from an unjust imprisonment, “Les Misérables” tells a story of love, sin, passion and redemption through decades of French industrialization and revolution.

By Tracy Martin/Village Theatre Kate Jaeger, as Madame Thénardier, and Nick DeSantis, as Monsieur, perform with the ensemble cast in the song ‘Master of the House’ in Village Theatre’s production of ‘Les Misérables.’

By Tracy Martin/Village Theatre
Kate Jaeger, as Madame Thénardier, and Nick DeSantis, as Monsieur, perform with the ensemble cast in the song ‘Master of the House’ in Village Theatre’s production of ‘Les Misérables.’

With such a large male cast, the show’s strength rests on the sheer skill of the singers. What makes it great is the level of emotion that the players, particularly Greg Stone, as Jean Valjean, and Eric Polani Jensen, as the pursuing policeman Javert, are able to give to the audience. They deliver the age’s restlessness and confusion in the face of social and personal change.

While the men remain the main characters, some of “Les Misérables’” most- known songs come from the strong, yet doomed female characters, Fontaine and Eponine. In competent and giving performances, Beth Devries, as the beset mother Fantine, and Kristen Delohr Helland, as the lovelorn Epinine, do not disappoint.

This show succeeds with dazzling brilliance in the large ensemble set pieces that offer thrilling choreography and more things that can be seen in a single viewing. Rascal innkeeper Thénardier’s signature song “Master of the House” and the call to war song “One Day More” are two such examples.

The staging of the production by director Steve Tomkins raises some questions about the world in which the story takes place. There is no doubt the set is beautiful, with elaborately decorated walls and impressive use of a rotating floor. However, in trying to paint 19th century France as some other worldly, off kilter place, the production detaches itself from the real world. The set is all slanted, askew buildings and many of the costumes look patterned after steampunk designs, more modern than Victorian. It removes you from what is meant to be a quasi-real world setting. Since the major themes are universal, this quibble does not detract from a stellar show.

Other direction choices were simply confusing, including a lack of rain during a song that repeatedly mentions it, many mimed props and a very dubious doppelgänger.

All in all, Village Theatre’s “Les Misérables” creates a stirring portrait of human suffering and struggle that finds rebirth in love. Stone and the rest of the cast shake the stage with timeless emotion and provide a production well worth seeing.

 

If you go

‘Les Misérables’

  • Nov. 7 to Jan. 5
  • Francis Gaudette Theatre
  • 303 Front St. N.
  • Tickets: $33 to $68
  • 392-2202
  • www.villagetheatre.org
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