Los Angeles Theater Review: LES MISÉRABLES (La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts)

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by Tony Frankel on June 3, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

DON’T MIZ IT

Unlike most of the characters in the blockbuster sung-through musical Les Misérables, the show itself will never die. Consistently presented either on Broadway, national tours, and/or globally since the English-language version opened on the West End in 1985, audiences can’t get enough of Victor Hugo’s story about ex-con and do-gooder Jean Valjean and his righteous long-arm-of-the-law pursuer, Javert. With a speedy 3-hour running time, the rousing anthems, heartbreaking ballads, delicious characters right out of Dickens, and compelling storytelling—from Valjean’s paroling to the Paris Uprising of 1832—prove that modern audiences and millennials do indeed have an attention span if the material is great.

The company of LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS-McCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT production of LES MISERABLES

With the movie adaptation complete and a sleek new production having safely found its audience on Broadway, the rights have been released to mid-size houses and regional theaters around the country. With dozens of roles, many of them major, and 30+ ensemble members, all of whom must sing spectacularly while negotiating hundreds of costume and wig changes, Les Miz is not an easy venture to undertake. While their production isn’t revolutionary, La Mirada Theatre and Mc Coy Rigby Entertainment capture the revolutionary spirit in their Los Angeles Regional Theatre Premiere.

Meeghan Holaway and Jeff Skowron in the LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS-McCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT production of LES MISERABLES

With the turntable and multi-media spectacle of Broadway productions expunged, director Brian Kite and Casting Director Julia Flores have assembled the most important thing: singers. Some acted better than others, but the vocals blew me away, even with distracting sound issues such as popping and mikes dropping out (hopefully one day, designers will be brought in much sooner to eliminate sound snafus).

Randall Dodge and James Barbour in the LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS-McCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT production of LES MISERABLES

Broadway barihunk James Barbour anchors the show as Valjean, and while his vocal abilities were never in doubt, he positively stunned with a powerful and resonant tenor; his rendition of “Bring Him Home” was one of the most stirring on record. In the dozen times I have seen Les Miz, it’s the first that a lengthy and roaring ovation followed this poignant ballad. (Then again, the opening night audience got in the way of the vulnerable moments by clapping at the drop of a baguette—at one point, a character held one of those long American Idol-like belt notes, and audience members yelled, “Yeah, Girl!” I wanted to scream, “You DO know she’s dying, right?!”)

Les Miserables Musical by McCoy Rigby at La Mirada Theater 30 May 2014

Other characters were portrayed as well as those on Broadway. Michael Stone Forrest was the apotheosis of sanctity and strength as the Bishop who bestows silver candlesticks on Valjean as a way to keep him from a life of thievery. An impassioned and persuasive Anthony Federov brought life to Enjolras, the leader of the revolutionaries with no backstory whatsoever (indeed, I don’t believe the character’s name is even mentioned in the show). Jeff Skowron and Meeghan Holaway wisely don’t go over the top as Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, lowlifes who make Fagin from Oliver a candidate for Sainthood.

Kimberly Hessler and Nathaniel Irvin in the LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS-McCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT production of LES MISERABLES

Valerie Rose Curiel veered from that yodeling, pop-opera sound as Thénardier’s daughter Éponine, offering a lovely, straightforward teenager who is torn between unrequited love and a life of larceny. A real find was Jude Mason as the Artful Dodger-like boy, Gavroche; it’s always thrilling to see a child actor powerful in voice who can eschew cloying behavior. And as Valjean’s adopted daughter Cosette, who falls for the student revolutionary Marius, Kimberly Hessler presented a clarity of tone that was astonishing.

Jeff Skowron, James Barbour, Meeghan Holaway and Emilie LaFontaine (as young Cosette) in the LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS-McCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT production of LES MISERABLES

Three leads fortunately did not get in the way of the show’s impact with undistinguished performances. Randall Dodge matched Barbour in booming voice and tall stature as Javert, but he lacked character complexity. Cassandra Murphy as the good-girl-turned-prostitute Fantine (“I Dreamed a Dream”) pushed way too hard as if she was scrunching three-hours of drama into her twenty-minute role; she went for tortured when damaged purity is called for. Nathaniel Irvin offered another golden voice as Marius, the student revolutionary who falls for Cosette, but dramatic intent went missing.

Les Miserables Musical by McCoy Rigby at La Mirada Theater 30 May 2014

Credit for the vocals goes to Musical Director John Glaudini, who did wonders with a scaled-down 13-member orchestra. But the stars of the show are creators Claude-Michel Schönberg (music), Herbert Kretzmer (English language libretto based on original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel), and James Fenton (additional material). These gentlemen may have truncated and in some ways bastardized Hugo’s novel, but there must have been Divine Intervention because they found the beating heart of the universal human journey: the search for love in a world of injustice.

James Barbour (with Nathaniel Irvin on ground) stars in the LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS-McCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT production of LES MISERABLES

photos by Michael Lamont

Les Misérables
McCoy Rigby Entertainment
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
14900 La Mirada Boulevard in La Mirada
scheduled to end on June 22, 2014
for tickets, call 562.944.9801 or visit La Mirada

{ 2 comments }

Tim June 11, 2014 at 3:11 pm

I’m seeing this tonight. Your article has me extra excited!

J.D. June 28, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Show was decent for such a small theatre.

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