Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Capsule Review Day: Les Miserables

Today I will hit the high points of Sunday's show in as few words as possible, since my Florida readers hate when I talk about musicals. In some places, I've linked to MP3s of what I think are the "best performers in that role",taken from my Les Mis Week in 2002 .

Jean Valjean: Randal Keith:
The only returning cast member. Excellent, possibly even better than before. Effortlessly hit the highs, the lows, the louds, and the softs.

Javert: Robert Hunt:
Tried too hard to be evil when the character is just an authority figure. Good voice, okay actor. Pissed me off all the time by changing the rhythm of the lyrics. The composer wrote those eighth notes for a reason, dumbass -- you can change them when you graduate from composer school. Doesn't hold a candle to Philip Quast (799KB MP3) who is ridiculously good.

Fantine: Joan Almedilla:
So-so singer, kind of peculiar-looking. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with peculiar-looking people, since I myself am peculiar-looking. However, when you're in a musical and you're peculiar-looking, it distracts the audience from the music unless you're a really good singer. Sometimes sounded like she didn't speak English and was singing phonetically. Not as good as Debbie Byrne (527KB MP3) or Ruthie Henshall (549KB MP3).

Bishop of Digne: Gabriel Kalomas:
Excellent -- really gave it his all for a part that's only five or six lines long.

Young Cosette: Rachel Schier:
Cute kid, good singer, believable actress. Hopefully she never grows up to take the useless Old Cosette role.

Gavroche: Anthony Skillman:
Another good child actor. Sang the Little People song fast enough so that it wasn't annoying.

Grantaire: Trent Blanton:
Very strong, although he didn't get to do much more than pace around and drink brandy.

Thenardier: Favio Polanco:
Excellent performance. Not sure if it's my favourite but there was nothing wrong. I still like Barry James's take on the character (513KB MP3).

Madame Thenardier: Jennifer Butt:
Another excellent performance. With so many people dying and puppies with cancer in this musical, the comic figures are really important. Both Thenardiers worked well together.

Eponine: Melissa Lyons: Very strong voice, but another distractingly peculiar-looking actress. I think the 2002 Eponine, Jessica-Snow Wilson was hands-down the best, despite her odd name-hyphenating technique.

Enjolras: Victor Wallace:
Decent singer and actor in a rather thankless role of the revolutionary. Not quite as ballsy sounding as Anthony Warlow (239KB MP3).

Marius: Adam Jacobs:
A disappointment. Another distractingly peculiar-looking actor (where do they all come from?) and looked like Fantine's real-life brother. Every time I was almost accepting him as Marius, his voice would go all nasal-peanut and he'd sound like a cast member from Avenue Q. Also messed around with his rhythms and changed the words of Empty Chairs and Empty Tables to Empty Chairs AT Empty Tables. This was not an improvement -- the reason you sing the part written on the score is because it works. Rewriting is not interpretation. Michael Ball is still the definitive Marius (281KB MP3).

Cosette: Leslie Henstock:
Boring, but only slightly peculiar-looking, as if she were the love child of Fantine and Marius. The role really doesn't give actresses anything to work with, and this actress just phoned it in. Cosette's only job in the musical is to sing the two high pretty notes in the musical. She batted 1 for 2 and had the good fortune of sustaining the note 90 cents flat for about ten seconds. I still like Tracy Shayne (534KB MP3).

Staging:
As good as ever. The suicide scene still works, and the Decepticon streets of Paris are still very cool.

Arrangements:
Still a little "all the same" towards the end, but very powerful. Some of the arrangements were tightened with added horn lines which were nice, and a small new scene was added where Valjean meets Cosette for the first time. The new scene obviously sounded like it wasn't written by the original arranger -- like the added song in the movie version of RENT which just doesn't belong.

Orchestra:
Excellent. Able. I miss pit. Kept up with the stupid artistic-license singers who were changing up all the rhythms.

Extras:
Why are they choreographed to do all those funky things? Just because there's 20 cast members twiddling backstage doesn't mean they all have to walk around the stage in every scene pantomining things. It's almost as distracting as funny-looking people.

Seatmates:
Excellent. I was surrounded by hot women in fancy clothes, and Ben. I guess Ben was hot too.

Bottom Line:
Despite the occasional weak performer and a second half that creeps a little bit too slowly, the show was still incredibly powerful, on the strength of the other performers, the music, and the underlying story. A+. Would watch a musical by these French clowns again.

Happy Birthday Robin Langridge!

Side effects include pain, headache, vomiting, an irregular pulse, and a broken leg
TV in bedroom halves your sex life
Don't f_ck with Polly

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