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Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Les Misérables (School Edition)
Organization Roseville Theatre Arts Academy
Date(s) of show March 8-23, 2013
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review This is my favorite musical. I’ve seen it performed on the stage, seen the movie, and viewed the DVDs of the 10th anniversary “Dream Cast” performance at Royal Albert Hall, and the 25th anniversary performance in 2010. I’ve sung the medley in a chorus and Javert’s “Stars” in front of large audiences. I’ve listened to the soundtrack many, many times. I even have (expensive) tickets for the performance by the touring company coming to Sacramento in June. What might I expect from the School Edition put on by Roseville Theatre Arts Academy?

I expected to be moved again – and I was. For a start, I was not conscious of significant cuts from the original version. Certainly, the bawdy scenes were not cut, and Mme. Thénardier’s language in “Master of the House” wasn’t bowdlerized. The whole show was presented in a fast pace, and with live accompaniment from 7 excellent pit musicians.

The solos were of uneven quality, even for school-age kids, though some were quite good, and performing as Jean Valjean, Alex Crossland’s occasional venturing into falsetto was one of many solo moments on his part and on the part of others that worked beautifully. The same is true of the acting. I saw under-acting and overacting, but there were many times when an actor really nailed the character and the situation. In school-age productions, I love spotting performers with genuine talent and watching them throughout the show, even when they’re not in the spotlight. And it’s especially rewarding to notice – as I often did last night – people in minor parts who, with the stage filled with action far away from them, are still giving their all in presenting their character.

The comic relief in a serious production has an edge in the competition to steal the show. And last night Spencer Peterson and Madi Crossland as the Thénardiers exploited that advantage with over-the-top performances that were pure delight, enhanced by their costumes, make-up and physical humor.

Another major highlight of the show for me was the performance of the ensemble, and the stage was often filled with all 67 of the cast members. The complex action of their crowd scenes was an eyeful. And time and again, their choral sound did justice to the wonderful music they were singing.

And lest I seem to slight the key players, I was genuinely moved – once again – by the Bishop’s kindness, by Fantine’s death, by the Parisian students’ idealism, by the pathos of Éponine’s futile love, by Jean Valjean’s generous impulses – and of course, by the final trio which ends “to love another person is to see the face of God.”

This is an ambitious production, not only for the logistical, casting and staging challenges, but also because it’s a great risk to put on something so familiar to so many. And I have special respect for the effort behind it because this show was also educational. After all, this is the Roseville Theatre Arts Academy, and they were exposing their young charges – many no doubt for the first time – to what many consider the greatest musical of all time. But last night’s large, enthusiastic audience wasn’t thinking about the educational value of the show when they rose to their feet in applause: they had been genuinely entertained, as had I.

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