BY CAMILLE GAVIN Contributing writer
"Les Miserables," the musical now playing at Stars, is a study in contrasts. And the nearly full house at the show I attended last Sunday showed its appreciation of the way those contrasts were dramatized with a standing ovation.
It's a huge production, one that's hard to get your arms around unless you're familiar with the story based on Victor Hugo's novel about a convict and the young girl he adopts during a tumultuous period of history in 19th century France.
The show ranges from scenes filled with shouting, cannon fire and loud noises -- bursts of red, white and blue lights, plenty of rumbling booms -- to a cluster of bawdy characters carousing in a tavern and perhaps most of all, tender love scenes.
And then there's the beautiful and complex music by Claude-Michel SchÃ¶nberg, well-played by the seven-piece orchestra, which sounded like a much larger aggregation due mainly to the expertise of Jeff Rosenburg and Brock Christian on side-by-side keyboards.
Stars version of "Les Miz" is blessed with cast members who know how to act as well as sing. And that's especially important in this show where there is no dialogue -- the story is told only though song. Vocal director Brenda Baldwin has done her job well.
True, it isn't always possible to catch all the words but for me the actors' expressions and body movements went a long way in conveying what was happening.
James Rowley as Marius has an especially pleasing voice and clear diction. He is particularly effective in the song "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables," and in a duet with Izamar Olaguez as Eponine. As an actor, Rowley is as believable as a shy lover as he is a patriotic revolutionary with his comrade Ejolras, played by Alex Neal.
Ken Burdick, with his booming voice and bold presence, is well-suited to his role as the cruel Javert, the policeman who relentlessly pursues Jean Valjean, a paroled convict.
Kevin Trueblood as Valjean has perhaps the toughest character to portray as he rises from thievery, despair and poverty to become a wealthy and respected citizen and ultimately shows his true worth when he saves the life of the relentless Javert.
One of the most touching moments comes near the end of the second act. I don't know about the rest of the audience but I shed a few tears as I watched Trueblood, Jennifer Resolme (Fantine) and Tessa Ogles (Cosette) come together to bring a satisfying resolution to the story.
Kevin McDonald and Jill Burdick make the most of their bawdy characters as the crafty Mr. and Mrs. Thenardier. Their body language and stealthy movements provide a few lighter moments in a play that is for the most part pretty somber. The show runs three hours, including intermission, so a bit of levity here and there is welcome.
Kudos to Greg Mansi for an excellent -- and workable -- set. The rebels' barricade might have looked ramshackle but it was sturdy enough to support the actors' swift movements.
Another nice touch were the props created for a garden scene. Its only pieces were a free-standing gate, a wooden bench and an enormous urn of purple flowers. It took up less than 25 percent of the stage, yet it conveyed the feeling of a private garden. Quite a contrast to the rough-hewn busyness of the barricade.
Director Brent Rochon has done a splendid job in mounting a very large production on a small stage. Though subtle, his expertise as a choreographer is evident in the graceful movements of the chorus and in the raucous tavern scenes. Overall, Stars "Les Miz" is an excellent show.