Les Miserables is a big, big show. It requires multiple settings, an ample orchestra, and a whole lot of powerful voices. Here’s to the Balagan for taking on this daunting musical theatre icon; the local crew has succeeded on many levels. It is quite a treat to see such a major production in the smallish confines of the Erickson Theater, something like catching The Rolling Stones at a local pub.
Most impressive in this production are the full company pieces. The chorus simply blows the roof off the theater on a number of occasions, most notably “End of the Day”, “The Innkeeper’s Song” and “One Day More”. These larger pieces are a genuine highlight of the play; a facet the recent movie version, with its emphasis on the leads, seemed to miss. My only quibble with the Balagan is the over amplification of the voices and orchestra, making the sound of the show somewhat artificial, as if it had already been pre-recorded; thus losing a bit of the natural quality of the presentation, so important to a show like this.
Louis Hobson, The Balagan’s Artistic Director, plays the overwhelmingly difficult role of Jean Valjean. Playwrights Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg created what amounts to an Iron Man Marathon of a part with this character. The vocal and physical demands of the role are legendary and Hobson is generally up for the challenge and admirably anchors the production. Opening night saw a few minor hiccups with his role that can easily be remedied.
Danielle Barnum as Eponine and Brian Giebler as Marius both provide some breathtaking moments in their featured numbers. Barnum perfectly captures the dismay and pain of unrequited love in her rendition of “On My Own”; while Giebler has one of the purest tenor voices I’ve heard recently and makes “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” a late show highlight.
Robert Scherzer and Rebecca M.Davis seemed to have heaps of fun taking on the parts of the morally challenged Thenardiers. Their ribald rendition of the “Innkeeper’s Song” serves as a pleasant oasis amid the dark and darker plot points of Act One.
The show is put together with an unbridled enthusiasm and love. Many production qualities are top notch. Director Jake Groshong makes ingenious use of the venue, having the action pop up in almost every nook and cranny of the theater at one point or another. Emmett Buhmann’s lighting was particularly effective, enhancing both the intimate solo numbers and the large full stage action pieces. The company is even offering a special Cosette’s Amor cocktail to enjoy before the show. The Balagan boasts they offer “outstanding theatre at an outstanding price.” Their entertaining rendering of Les Miserables successfully supports that claim.
Balagan Theatre’s Les Miserables runs at the Erickson Theater September 6 through September 28. Music direction by Nathan Young; set design by Ahren Buhmann; costumes by Lauren Karbowski and sound by Lisa Finkral. Ticket information at Balagantheatre.org.