They dreamed a dream
High Street captivates with Les Mis
By Jenny Lower 06/20/2013
When the long-desired production rights for the widely beloved Les Miserables finally became available at the community level, Ventura County theaters leaped to lead the charge. This summer sees two productions of Victor Hugo’s sweeping epic, with the first now playing through July 7 at Moorpark’s High Street Arts Center. (The second, at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, opens July 20 after a brief interregnum.) Meanwhile, those of us not especially partial to Jean Valjean’s redemption tale have readied ourselves for the onslaught, much as Hugo’s revolutionaries gird themselves at the barricade.
Yet with the first rumbling refrain of High Street’s prologue, prejudice evaporated, and this reviewer relaxed into one of the most pleasurable and professional theatrical experiences in recent memory. The sheer scale of Les Mis makes it a daunting project for any company. High Street’s production, directed and choreographed by Arryck Adams and featuring a cast of nearly 40 actors, is remarkable for the sophistication and lavishness of its costumes, set design and onstage talent. If the ragtag civilian army had this much heart and half these resources, the uprising might have turned out differently.
The multigenerational tale centers on social unrest some 40 years after the French Revolution, though the downtrodden citizens could easily be mistaken for the Third Estate. Imprisoned 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, the thief Jean Valjean tries to start a new life but remains hounded by Javert, the commander who oversaw his release. When a young woman named Fantine falls on hard times, Valjean vows to raise her daughter, Cosette, as his own, though their lives soon collide with the revolutionary spirit of the times.
Aided by Lisa Yaldezian’s outstanding musical direction, Adams has elicited strong performances from all his principals. There are too many to enumerate here, but standouts include Mischa Pollack as Valjean, captivating with his earnest doggedness and unflinching sense of honor. Among the men, Ryan Driscoll and Eric Petrucci offer some of the evening’s best vocal performances as Marius, a handsome but bland love interest to whom Driscoll manages to give some emotional depth, and Enjolras, a dashing firebrand. Fans of the musical will be pleased with Courtney Bolen’s beautiful, wretched Fantine, and Jessica Rau’s Eponine, the noble street rat who sacrifices herself for Marius’ happiness. As mistress of the house, Tami Keaton eggs on her husband with naughty relish.
Though props are few, Kyle Duncan’s set design thrusts us into the action with a façade of stone brick and glowing shutters. The production’s showpiece, the barricade, is a hodgepodge marvel of engineering, both visually stunning and safe enough to allow actors to swarm across it. A team of four costume designers led by Barbara Mazeika tackled the monumental effort of outfitting the entire cast through numerous costume changes, including creating a fleet of prostitutes and Cosette’s confection like gowns.
A few minor technical glitches plagued the production reviewed. The actors occasionally outpace their lighting, and while Adams generally handles the ensemble well — the barricade scenes are a joy to behold — he often under-choreographs solo numbers. “Master of the House” lacks some of the pizzazz necessary for such a playful number. But these moments do not seriously detract from the production. This Les Mis offers such a faithful, dazzlingly accomplished staging, particularly for a community theater, that even this reluctant revolutionary got swept along in the magic.
Les Miserables, through July 7, High Street Arts Center, 45 E. High St., Moorpark, 529-8700, www.hsac45.com.