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Music stunning in Skylight Theatre's 'Les Miserables'

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

November 27, 2013

 
MILWAUKEE - Since its Broadway debut in 1987, “Les MisŽrables,” the opera based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, has toured the world, won over 100 awards, been translated into 22 languages and delighted over 65 million people, including those of us at Skylight Music Theatre’s opening night.   

Under Molly Rhode’s capable direction, this huge show has been adapted for the smaller, more intimate setting of the Cabot Theatre, no small task. Despite the somewhat cumbersome set design, which was not very adaptive for the more intimate scenes, the soaring music more than made up for it.  

Victor Hugo, like Charles Dickens, was a political activist, ever concerned with the injustices in society. This work, so beautifully enhanced by the work of musical composer Claude-Michel Schonbert and lyricist Alain Boublil, was translated into English by Herbert Kretzmer. It emphasizes the strength of the human spirit and the power of forgiveness, also highlighting the price people have to pay in their efforts to change themselves or society.  

There are so many memorable songs and haunting motifs woven into the story of Valjean’s life journey that one can’t mention them all. Probably the most popular are “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” and “I Can Hear the People Sing,” but there are many others worth noting, including the rousing “Master of the House” by the exuberant innkeepers Mr. and Mme Thenardier, the poignant “Empty Chairs and Empty Table” by the young soldier Marius, and the heart-wrenching “Soliloquy,” the final hopeless reflections of Javert, the obsessed police inspector.   

To me, the most beautifully rendered melody of all was Valjean’s soulful “Bring Him Home.”

Among many musically gifted vocalists, none equaled Luke Grooms, who played the leading role as Valjean with power, variety and sensitivity. Also worthy of specific mention are Andrew Varela as the driven Javert; Kevin Massey as the lovelorn Marius, Eric Mahlum and Rhonda Rae Busch, who offered comic relief as the conniving innkeepers, Melissa Fife as the bereft but brave Eponine, Susan Weidmeyer as the idealistic Cosette, Tommy Hahn as the inspiring revolutionary Enjolras and Jake Koch as the spunky tyke Gavroche.  

The show is lengthy and everything is sung, but the significance of the story and the emotionally engaging music keep one glued to the stage.  

The ensemble numbers (performed by 16 additional vocalists) are powerful. The orchestration by Robert Linder is well-balanced. The costumes by Carol J. Blanchard are authentic, and Peter Dean Beck’s lighting is creative; he also designed the set.  

It is a production that will probably sell out as did the one recently shown at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Don’t delay and regret it. This is the kind of show that keeps giving.  

“Les Miserables” runs through Dec. 29 at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call 414-291-7800 or visit www.skylightmusictheatre.org