Admittedly, this writer, who has seen the Broadway as well as several touring productions of “Les Misérables,” not to mention the 2012 film version starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, felt more than skeptical about the Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre production now playing at the far Northwest Indianapolis venue.
How could this dinner theater, though undisputedly professional and currently in its 40th season, possibly execute this iconic musical, noted for its grand scope and scale, with such a small cast and a postage stamp-sized stage?
Happily, after having seen a Thursday matinee performance, this reviewer is pleased to report that not only did director Eddie Curry and his supremely talented cast and production team do justice to “Les Misérables”— they far exceeded expectations with a sparkling interpretation that shone with vitality and ingenuity.
For those unfamiliar with the show—it’s a sung-through musical based on “Les Misérables,” a 1862 novel by Frenchman Victor Hugo. With music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Alain Boubil, and libretto by Herbert Kretzmer, “Les Mis,” premiered on Broadway in 1987.
The musical tells the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant who is sent to prison for 19 years after stealing a loaf of bread for a starving family member. After breaking his parole, he encounters a compassionate bishop, who inspires him to change his life and seek redemption; his major obstacle is Javier, a police inspector who becomes obsessed with tracking him down. Serving as a backdrop for the story is the 1832 Paris Uprising, led by a group of student idealists, which is a lethal situation that directly impacts Valjean and numerous other characters in the story.
Skillfully directed by Curry, the Beef & Boards’ production is most remarkable for the superior quality of the individual and ensemble vocal performances of its uber energetic cast members, overseen by music director Terry Woods, who played the keyboard and conducted the fine six piece orchestra that accompanied them.
Notable as well were the cast members’ acting performances, all of which were uniformly first-rate, even to the point at which the members of the ensemble, who played multiple roles, were able to switch it up and remain believable while doing so. Gratefully, there was a not a single weak link amongst them.
Integral to the show’s success was Ron Morgan, whose staging and choreography of numbers such as “Master of the House,” “Do You Hear the People Sing” and “One Day More,” contributed to its elevated excitement quotient.
Curry could not have done a better job of casting his leads for what was essentially a coup, considering the level of talent witnessed. Each and every one deserves plaudits but there were a few who stood out for the visceral quality of their performances which shall always remain memorable.
One was that of Gregg Goodbrod as Valjean. His rendition of “Bring Him Home,” which Valjean sings as he implores God to save his ward Cosette’s love interest, Marius, who has been wounded in battle, was extraordinary both for its artistry and emotional depth.
Another performance that stood out was that of I.U. Jacobs School of Music graduate Nick Fitzer as Enjolras, the leader of the student revolutionaries. He showed a striking presence and demonstrated thrilling vocals in “Red and Black,” and “Do You Hear the People Sing.” Fitzer is a one of a kind performer destined for great things.
Making clever use of the theater’s limited space and giving it the illusion of being more expansive than it actually is was set designer Michael Layton. It was Layton’s creativity that made for a barricade scene that was as thrilling as any seen previously in any “Les Mis” stage production.
Ryan Koharchik’s lighting design was inspired, as evidenced by the vivid illusions he created in both the barricade scene and the one in which Javert jumps to his death from a bridge.
Contributing to the show’s period authenticity were Kurt Alger’s costumes. They were beautifully designed and executed, for the most part, but considering the intimacy of the space and for purposes of realism, peasant’s costumes, for instance, could have used further distressing.
That same closeness to the audience also made inconsistencies in the false appearance of several character’s wigs (including that of Cosette) and fake facial hair (such as the Bishop), more prominent.
These minor flaws, however, were forgivable within the context of what was an otherwise seamless experience and one of the most engrossing and entertaining ones seen thus far by Examiner.com during this year’s local theater season. This exceptional “Les Mis,” (the meal was pretty great too) runs through November 24.
For tickets and information about Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s presentation of “Les Misérables,” call the theater’s ticket office at (317) 872-9964 or visit www.beefandboards.com.
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