Rob Hopper National Youth Theatre

"they’ve certainly put together a very professional-looking production with impressive sets (JP Luckenbach), lighting (Rob Fritz and Matt Shulman), and costumes (Kim Overton). "  
Les Miserables
by Rob Hopper

Photo by Kim Gottleib-Walker / Victor Hugo’s classic tale set in 19th-century France became one of the most successful musicals ever written – a sweeping epic with music as grand as the story. It’s the tale of Jean Valjean, a man who has spent twenty years in a prison chain gang after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child. Life on parole is nearly as difficult, but when a kindly bishop gives him a second chance, Jean breaks his parole and becomes determined to make the most of his new life. It’s a life complicated when he inadvertently causes the young girl Cosette to be orphaned, and finds himself chased relentlessly by Inspector Javert who becomes obsessed with finding parole violator Jean Valjean.

Joshua Finkel, a veteran of the Les Miserables national tour and Los Angeles Company, came to Hamilton Academy of Music to direct their big spring musical. And they’ve certainly put together a very professional-looking production with impressive sets (JP Luckenbach), lighting (Rob Fritz and Matt Shulman), and costumes (Kim Overton). Jim Foschia leads the school’s 46-piece orchestra through the difficult score very well.

Sergio Pasquariello takes on the challenging role of Jean Valjean, and he’s a fine tenor who does an excellent job with the character and the vocals. Frankie Kraft is his nemesis Javert, with a strong voice filled with complete conviction in his self-righteousness. Jackie Bressack is Fantine, the unwed mother of Cosette who ends up having to prostitute herself to send money to Cosette’s guardians, her voice shining in her big solo I Dreamed a Dream.

The younger generation is led by three truly impressive actors. Emily Koch is Eponine, a daughter of criminals who has an unrequited crush on idealistic student Marius. Emily’s performance is both original and heartfelt, her love for Marius ever present. Bryce Payne is Marius. He somehow takes a thinly written character and gives him intense depth, demonstrating powerful emotions for his friend Eponine, dedication to the student rebellion, and passion for Valjean’s grown-up adopted daughter Cosette. Said Cosette (Gabrielle Michel) is also more of a standout than usual, playful with Marius and getting a little pissed about being separated from him rather than taking it with wistful regret, as is usually portrayed. The three great performers work off each other perfectly within the love triangle and make for a beautiful Heart Full of Love trio, making their reunion with Valjean in the final scene all the more powerful.

Eponine’s parents, played by John Henry Evans and Sara Gonzales, add some humor to the show as the Masters of the House, sleazy innkeepers who rip off their customers, turn Young Cosette (Bess Benhamou) into an unloved slave, and pamper their spoiled daughter Young Eponine (Maggie Dougherty). Bess sings a sweet Castle on a Cloud, and Maggie is a bratty Young Eponine, extending her torment of Young Cosette even to the final bows when she playfully pushes Cosette out of her way.

The ensemble of Lovely Ladies is very good, featuring a good cameo by Maggie Randolph as a vindictive factory worker who gets Fantine in trouble. The students and cast end each act on a strong note with One Day More and Do You Hear the People Sing as they fight for the kind of world in which they want to live.

Performs May 3 - 19, 2007.