NSMT Mounts Stunning ‘Les Miserables’ (5 Stars)

‘Les Miserables’ – Adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo; Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg; Lyrics by  Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel (French lyrics), Herbert Kretzmer (English adaptation); Director and Choreography by Andrew Bryan; Music Direction by Bert Scott; Scenic Design by Kurt Alger; Costume Design by Dan Efros. Produced by the North Shore Music Theatre at 62 Dunham Road Beverly, MA through November 16th.

North Shore Music Theatre’s production of “Les Miserables” is nothing short of astonishing. This brilliantly executed and powerful work transports the audience to another place in a way that I have not experienced with any other theatrical production during my stint as a reviewer. And while I’m fairly new at this game, veteran theater goers assured me after the curtain call that this version compared very favorably to productions they had seen in New York and London.Take a great story – Victor Hugo’s 19th century historical novel set before the Paris Uprising of 1832 – a wonderful score and a brilliantly talent cast, and musical theater experiences don’t get much better than this.

This sung-through musical (no spoken words transitioning between songs) has a multi-layered plot that  tells the story of Jean Valjean and the relentless pursuit by his  tormentor, Inspector Javert. But the story has so many other elements, including a heartbreaking love triangle, a lesson in redemption and an historic storyline. Valjean was freed after serving 19 years in prison for stealing bread to feed his starving nephew, but his fortune quickly sours again upon his release. Branded a criminal, he has trouble finding honest work and is taken in by the kindly Bishop of Digne, who offers him food and shelter for the night. Valjean repays the kindness by stealing silver from the church, and he is captured by the police. He is about to be sent back to prison, but the Bishop tells the police that he gifted the silver to Valjean and he is freed once again. But there is a price: Digne tells Valjean that he “bought his soul for God”, and he must redeem his sins. The number that follows – “Valjean’s Soliloquy” / “What Have I Done?” is just the first taste of vocal power of Will Ray, who inhabits the lead role as if it were written for him. Ray’s intensity reminds me of a young Ted Neely, best known theatrically for playing Jesus in touring productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, as well as the lead in the movie.

The casting is one of the many strengths of this terrific production, with a large number of cast members recruited from outside Greater Boston. As the obsessive Javert, Danny Rothman is a fine adversary for Ray, with a great set of pipes to match his menacing presence as Valjean’s antagonist. Gary Troy nearly steals the show as Thenardier, the slimy innkeeper turned street criminal, who along with his wife (Tregoney Shepherd) keeps popping up throughout the story to serve as a counterpoint to Valjean’s spiritually driven redemptive aims. The version of “Master of the House” is twisted and funny, and is a standout among many masterfully choreographed numbers.

The ethereally beautiful Siri Howard is perfect as the adult Cosette, as the betrothed to Marius (Blake Stadnik)and rival to the spurned Eponine (the talented Lizzie Klemperer), who despite her undying love for Marius, assists him in her quest for Cosette’s heart. The three shine together in the beautiful “A Heart Full of love” and Klemperer is painfully touching with her rendition of “On My Own”. But it is when the company sings as a whole that the show reaches an entirely different level than most musicals, especially on the numbers to close the first act,”One Day More”, as well as “Wedding Chorale” and the show’s finale. Powered by a first rate 14-piece orchestra, the voices blend together to create a little piece of heaven.

Although many productions of Les Mis feature casts topping 100 members, NSMT’s production features a cast of about 30, and theater in the round stage creates a more intimate feel without losing the grand feel of the show. Set designer Kurt Alger creates a believable world for us, and the design of the barricades is particularly impressive.This is a great opportunity to see one of modern musical theater’s most popular shows. Don’t miss it. For more info, go to: www.nsmt.org/