Über-Fan vs. Newbie
Two perspectives on Balagan's Les Mis
We sent Monet Curnutt, a self-declared Les Mis über-fan and DeLancey Lane, who had "never seen Les Mis in any way," to review Balagan Theatre's production of Les Miserables. Here's what they each thought:
Monet Curnutt, the über-fan:
I truly have “A Heart Full of Love” for this production. Most people have something they have done throughout their entire life. For me, that’s enjoying Les Miserables. I have read the book, in-full, three times, listened to the cds countless times, and just the other night, I saw the most emotion-filled version of it I have ever seen. Hollywood has nothing on the Balagan Theatre production of Les Miserables. I have listened to and watched this musical since I was about six, and I would have caught any mistakes, but there were none! From their bawdy “Lovely Ladies”, to the heart wrenching beauty of “A Little Fall of Rain”, Balagan director Jake Groshong weaves a flawless spell that draws you into the story. I was privileged to get to sit onstage for the show, where you could see everything.
I have seen seven other versions of this musical, including the recent movie, which Balagan blows out of the water. Louis Hobson (Jean Valjean) plays his part to perfection, as well as having such a clear, clean, rich voice and crisp enunciation that I was enthralled all over again with Valjean’s story of redemption. Michael Dunlap (Inspector Javert) has such a rich, deep, resounding bass/deep baritone voice that “Stars” captivated me again. Shaye Hodgin’s Cosette is enchantingly innocent, and her sweet, melodic singing, the perfect contrast to Danielle Barnum’s world-wise, velvet voiced Eponine, entranced me. You might remember Danielle from her role as “Emma” from Tell Me on a Sunday at Artswest, which was a one-woman show that was incredible.
What really blew me out of the water, beyond the amazing vocal talent that the entirety of the cast possesses, was something my dear friend Jake pointed out. There is not a single spoken sentence in the entire production. It is all sung. Better still, I did not hear a single false note, and that thrilled my Les Mis-loving heart. “Lovely Ladies” is completely sexual, as it should be, “Master of the House” is hysterical and engrossing, and “A Heart Full of Love” is simply enchanting. This is a wonderful production, and I definitely recommend this for any theatre lover.
DeLancey Lane, the newbie:
Balagan Theatre’s production of Les Miserables by Boubil & Schnoberg does a great job of highlighting the thought-provoking concepts of all-grey conflict. If you’ve never seen Les Miserables before, I highly recommend taking this opportunity to go see it.
The cast is supported by an entourage of strong women, both in voice and character. Fantine (portrayed by Tessa Archer), and Eponine (Danielle Barnum) are possibly the most “present” actors I’ve ever seen. Unlike some of the ensemble or child actors (who seem to choose to just sing and stand in many scenes), these girls are so engaged in every scene that I found myself watching them instead of the main characters. Who wants to watch another Romeo & Juliet-type love scene when you could watch Eponine’s heart be ripped out right before your very eyes? The student rebellion is another moment of beauty. The actors in these scenes (particularly Heath Saunders) do an amazing job of saying why they fight for what they do, and how truly inspirational it is that they are willing to risk their lives so other’s can have better ones. Unfortunately though, the reasons for the student rebellion, and a plethora of other events in the play, are hazy. Whether this can be attributed to the fact that the play adaption assumes you’ve read the book, or that they only had 3 hours to do the show, I don’t know; but I do feel as if some explanatory lines were lost.
I have mixed feelings about set designer Ahren Buhmann's choices. In the beginning there are grey blocks used as different set pieces in each scene, but as the play progresses they get lost in with real set pieces. Costume designer Lauren Karbowski must have had a slightly difficult time trying to show the progression of many years through the color of our main character’s hair, but the silver hairspray was all over his costume by the end of the night. However, mixed in with some inadequacies are some very well-choreographed scenes, so “props” to whoever did those.
Although some actors arere not all “there,” and some artistic choices could be questioned, the play is worthwhile and I wouldn’t have spent my Friday night anywhere else. The production brings to life the big questions in life and makes each person think about morality, even if they don't realize they are dwelling on it. Is it okay to lie if the reason is to save another’s life? Do we follow the law even if the law isn’t fair? Those questions you can mull over yourself, when you go see Les Miserables at Balagan Theatre.
Les Miserables runs through this Saturday, September 28 at the Erickson Theatre on Capitol Hill. More info at balagantheatre.org
The run is SOLD OUT, however, because Balagan loves TeenTix SO MUCH, they are offering TeenTix members priority placement on the wait list for the Thursday, September 26th 8:00 PM performance. Here's what you need to know:
--You MUST be at the box office at 7pm to qualify.
--You MUST be present to put your name on the priority wait list.
--You MAY NOT put a non-Teen Tix member’s name on the priority wait list.
So, to recap, if want to see Les Mis, your best chance is to show up at the box office this Thursday at 7:00 PM, flash your TeenTix pass, and get on the wait list. Good luck!