by Lorie Lewis Ham
There have been three different productions of Les Miserables here in the Valley this summer and the third and final one, presented by the Reedley River City Theatre Co., opened this past weekend.
I have to admit when I heard that RCTC was doing Les Miserables, such a huge production on their tiny stage, I wondered how director Mark Norwood was going to pull this one off. Well now I know and he did it. The set was very complicated and worked a lot like putting together puzzle pieces, moving things into different shapes for different settings. At the same time it was simple–just what needed to be there to make the scenes work.
If you aren’t familiar with the story behind the show, it’s a very sad and complicated story of a man, Jean Valjean, sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. When a kindly bishop shows him compassion after he is released, where he thought none could be, he decides to break his parole in order to start his life anew. He’s relentlessly pursued by police inspector Javert, who is determined to bring him to justice–so determined that he chases him all throughout both their lives. Along the way, Jean Valjean takes on the care of a young girl named Cosette after feeling responsible for the death of her mother, Fantine. Throw in some French student revolutionaries passionately devoted to the freedom of the people, and you’ve got the basic story.
What made this show so beautiful were the performances. When you think of community theatre you don’t necessarily expect anywhere near the same kind of quality you would find on the big stage, but this Valley has a tendency to challenge that expectation and provide some incredible quality. Many of the people on the stage this time out were new faces, with just a few RCTC regulars present. Michael Westpy played Jean Valjean and his voice was big and beautiful. As to his acting, my daughter said he had these expressive eyes that made you feel his pain. His best song was “Bring Him Home”–it was so beautiful.
Jonathon Wheeler played the youthful and much less intense romantic lead of Marius, with a sweet, lovely voice. He was innocent and wistful when he fell in love with Cosette with just a glance, and yet broke your heart with his wonderful rendition of “Empty Chairs” (one of my favorite songs in this show).
Steve Jones and Sarah Wiebe, two of the few RCTC regulars in this one, were hilarious as the Thénardiers. Steve was really good at playing someone so awful and creepy.
Mia Primavera looked exactly as you would expect Cosette to and played perfectly the very innocent young woman. Elizabeth Applegate as little Cosette was a perfect fit for the part as well.
Nicholle Debbas played the sad young mother Fantine, determined to do anything for her daughter Cosette even at the cost of her own life. Her song “I Dreamed A Dream” is probably one of the best known songs of the show, and she did a lovely job.
Enjolras was perfectly played with all the needed intensity by Evan Borboa, and Kelly Hall brought me nearly to tears with another favorite song, “On My Own”, speaking of her ill-fated love of Marius.
Another favorite part of mine are the songs sung by the student revolutionaries, such as “Red and Black.” There’s nothing quite like a group of men singing together, and the last scene at the barricade is powerful. I have to selfishly note here that among the students is my son Joseph Ham, along with others such as Skyler Quammen, Jacob Alvarado, Chris Borden, Scott Chapman, Carson Rogalsky, Peter Boldt, and Erik Valencia. This was a large cast for an RCTC show, with more than 30 cast members. The ensemble numbers sounded great and filled the building–but that always seems to be a strong suite of RCTC.
The show was beautifully done and filled with lovely voices singing incredible and sad music. However, the one that brought down the house was young Grayson Ohnstad as Javert. Now keep in mind that Javert has always been a favorite character of mine so I’m prejudiced. He’s a villain who really isn’t quite that black and white with his relentless pursuit of Jean Valjean. Javert truly believes he is on the side of righteousness. Though only 22, this young man pulled off this most complicated role beautifully–from his intimidating presence (this guy is TALL), to his heartbreak in the end. And his voice was amazing.
Kudos goes to Nicholle Debbas who also did the make-up. The believability of Javert and Jean Valjean’s aging through the show is thanks to her. Also kudos to Sarah Wiebe for a great job with costumes.
If you’re looking for something happy and uplifting, this show may not be for you (though there are parts of the story that are inspiring). There are very few happy endings here, with much death and sadness. However, if you are looking for something to truly move you and make you cry, all with beautifully done music, then do not miss RCTC’s production of Les Miserables, on stage until August 4. You can learn more and purchase tickets on RCTC’s website.
You can check out KRL’s more local theatre reviews in our A & E section!