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'Les Miserables' is brilliant

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

September 25, 2014

 
Fireside Dinner Theatre in Fort Atkinson is known for its quality musicals. Their recent productions of “Annie Get Your Gun,” “The Sound of Music” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” to mention just a few, all attest to its sterling reputation.  

But its present offering, “Les Miserables,” breaks all records in terms of power and brilliance. Of course the script based on Victor Hugo’s novel, the music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubilil, and the lyrics and translation by Herbert Kretzmer certainly offer the perfect vehicle for success.  

Now all that is needed is great voices, credible acting and staging that fits a theater-in-the-round setting. Fireside had it all in spades.  

Since its inception debut in 1987, “Les Miserables” has toured the world, won over 100 awards, been translated into 22 languages and delighted over 65 million people. Like Dickens, Hugo was concerned about the economic inequalities in society and the unfairness inherent in the justice system. He also stresses the redemptive power of forgiveness. His stories are heart-wrenching and hopefully provocative enough to cause some changes in the world.  

There are so many memorable songs and haunting motifs woven into Valjean’s 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,” the poignant “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” sung by the young soldier Marius and the plaintive “Soliloquy,” the final hopeless reflections of Javert, the obsessed police inspector. To me the most beautiful of all is “Bring Him Home,” as sung by Valjean.  

Among many gifted vocalists, none surpassed Andrew Foote as Valjean. Javert was a close second as Javert. Two other male singers that deserve mention are Ryan Cupello as Marius and Charlie Levy as the leader of the revolution. Whenever the whole chorus of men sang together, it was thrilling.  

Among the female leads, both Sarah Hanlon as Fantine and Halle Morse as the spunky Eponine were impressive. The adult Cosette, played by Caitlin Borek, had a lovely voice that soared effortlessly. The conniving shopkeepers, the Thenardiers, were played with a sinister vigor by Michael Hawes and Rhonda Rae Busch. Little Gavroche was well rendered by KyLee Hennes. There’s a kid without a confidence problem.  

I loved how they were able to create different scenes of great variety with creativity (Rick Rasmussen). It takes some ingenuity to do that. Costumes were well chosen as well. The only flaw (and it’s miniscule) in the whole production was Valjean’s wig. Hideous. Musical and overall direction were masterfully executed by Mary Ehlinger and Ed Flesch.  

“Les Mis” runs through Oct. 26.  Call 800-477-9505 or visit www.firesidetheatre.com  The Fireside is located at 1131 Janesville Avenue in Fort Atkinson right off HWY 26, very accessible from east or west.