‘Les Misèrables’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia by Amanda Gunther


Do you hear the people sing? The beating of their hearts echoes the beating of the drum, as the show is about to start at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia. Presenting the regional premier of the Tony Award-winning classic, one of the longest running shows on Broadway— Les Misèrables stirs up a revolution of the heart and soul as it takes to the in-the-round stage at this spectacular theatre.

Javert (Lawrence B. Munsey) and Jean Valjean (Daniel Felton). Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Javert (Lawrence B. Munsey) and Jean Valjean (Daniel Felton). Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Directed by Toby Orenstein and Steven Fleming, with exceptional Musical Direction from Christopher Youstra, this brilliant heart-stopping musical bought the house to its feet in a well-deserved standing ovation. This is the ‘Must-See’ show of the year for the magic that blossoms before your eyes will truly take your breath away.

An epic that has sets forever, costumes forever, and cast forever, Toby’s Broadway-quality production has the highest standards in all facets and is truly remarkable. The talent showcased – not only in the performers but the creative and designing team as well – is beyond words of praise for their tremendous efforts that make this production a phenomenal success.

Outfitting a myriad of characters in this show is no small feat. Accomplished to perfection by Costumer Designers David Gregory and Shannon M. Maddox, the look of the cast members is incredible. Varying from the filthy rags of the poor to the extravagant corsets and boas on the ladies of the night, Gregory and Maddox leave no details in the dust. Mastering the look of such a complex show that moves across the years is aided by the wig designs of Lawrence B. Munsey, who appropriately ages the leads and keeps the women looking lovely. Gregory and Maddox should be commended for the complexity of their designs, keeping the ensemble so well disguised in their various outfits that you believe the cast to be much larger than it actually is.

Such a tremendous musical would not be a success without the creative genius of Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins. The sheer magnitude of these incredible set pieces is mind-blowing. To see the world of Jean Valjean evolve from the ground up before your very eyes is a stunning sensation that Hopkins achieves with his awe-inspiring designs. The barricade, the quintessential piece of this production, is the pinnacle of set design in the history of Toby’s Dinner Theatre. Working with Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin to perfect moments of the revolution atop the barricade, Hopkins has brought Broadway caliber scenic work to this production. Together Joslin and Hopkins make the most stunning effects for Javert’s bridge scene; a truly striking moment.

Directors Toby Orenstein and Steven Fleming have created magic. Every moment of emotion grows in resplendent light; shining like a beacon of truth in the darkness of the story’s plot. Orenstein and Fleming have selected the most sensationally stunning cast to deliver perfection to this renowned musical; a genuine masterpiece coming to fruition under their talented guidance. The reward of their efforts is felt in every song; so many moving moments that give me chills or brought a tear to my eye.

Musical Director Christopher Youstra accomplishes great feats when it comes to musical perfection. Evoking deep and heartfelt emotions from every member of the cast, the exquisite score of this production is well tended to in his care. Youstra’s perseverance to ensure that the ensemble upholds the integrity of the story through song is a soaring success. Tackling the complex rhythms of this show, Youstra’s succeeds in making this a superior production by far. With 5 other exceptional musicians joining him (he is on Keyboards), they produce a magical sound that usually comes from a much larger orchestra.

The true sound of this production is carried by a brilliant cast and an exceptionally talented ensemble. Populated with veteran voices and newcomers alike, the powerful blasts of emotionally charged notes that emanate from this cast is vocally stunning. Numbers like “At the End of the Day” are delivered with a ferocious thunder, the riveting strife of the downtrodden snapping straight to your ear. When their voices comes together for “One Day More” at the end of Act I it is the epitome of musical theatre at its finest. A culmination of musical perfection woven into emotional magnificence brings the story to a rapturous cliff; the most moving full-cast moment of the show.

The Factory Workers of Les Miserables. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

The Factory Workers of Les Miserables. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

The ensemble carries the show, balancing the story and all of its emotions on perfectly tuned voices that are extremely powerful. Notable voices like veterans Heather Marie Beck and Dayna Marie Quincy really call your attention with their venomous treachery in “At the End of the Day” while Coby Kay Callahan lets her voice glide a much more unctuous track in “Lovely Ladies.” Bringing balance to the more sinful side of the show is the pristine voice of Andrew Horn playing The Bishop of Digne. During the number “Valjean Arrested, Valjean Forgiven,” Horn’s angelic voice delivers the solemn but hopeful message in the purest of heart.

Played the fool by the pernicious factory workers, Fantine (Janine Sunday) finds herself a victim of tragic circumstance. Liberally abused by the ruthless Factory Foreman (David Bosley-Reynolds) Sunday’s character cracks into an emotional well of tormented sorrow during “Fantine’s Arrest,” dissolving into tenable hysterics in front of M’sieur le Mayor. Sunday’s finest hour comes during the heartbreaking “Come To Me,” which drew many tears from the audience.

You’ll truly be able to see what little people can do with the exquisite talent playing Little Cosette (at this performance Caroline Otchet) and Gavroche (at this performance Jace Franco). Otchet’s melodious voice carries the hauntingly dreamlike song “Castle on a Cloud” with such a delicate air that she nearly drifts away while singing. Franco as the precocious young pup gives a rousing good introduction to “Look Down” as well as “Little People,” truly embodying the spirit of the revolutionaries as he mixes company with the students. Franco is quite the tough little tiger and holds his own vocally against the big boys of the barricade.

The voices of the students are compelling – driving songs with their overflowing vehemence and tenacious pride for a new world. Bursting at the seams with vocal excitement are Combeferre (Tobias Young) and Grantaire (Christopher Harris). Young’s stunning voice is easily recognizable in “Red and Black” while Harris takes the more subdued approach and leads the students in a somber and harrowing rendition of “Drink With Me.” Feuilly (Nick Lehan) delivers the most memorable line in “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and with his powerhouse vocals behind “…the blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of France…” All of the students rally together with a ferocious sound for “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” a song that belts out the revolutionary pride within them all.

Leading the pack of students is Enjolras (Ben Lurye). With a phenomenal voice, he is the epitome of a revolutionary leader. Lurye’s voice churns up emotions with tenacious force, the blood coursing through his veins inspiring a conflagration that blazes through the barricade, especially during “Upon These Stones,” “Red and Black” and when he leads “Do You Hear the People Sing?” Lurye’s voice is a perfect fit for this role.

Even the tragedy of tragedies must have some levity to it. Bringing the comic graces and spreading them for all to see are Thènardier (David James) and Madam Thènardier (Theresa Cunningham). A pair of priceless comic cads, Cunningham and James really ham up the comic shtick for “Master of the House” and again late in Act II for “Beggars at the Feast.” Cunningham’s eyes are shocking; her wildly expressive facial features making her moments on stage that much more laughable. James’ body becomes uproariously disjointed as he totters around content to be a gent with all the charms of a crooked street clown. James’ dynamic versatility, however, is showcased later in the production when he switches from comic kook to ruthless villain. A darker side of his sleazy personality is revealed during “The Attack on Rue Plummet.” Digging into the grit of his character, James grounds Thènardier’s dark side for “Dog Eats Dog,” giving a harrowing rendition of the number that turns your stomach to hear. With a stunning belt at the end of this number, he’s the epitome of well-rounded in this two-fold role.

 Madam Thenardier (Theresa Cunningham) and Thenardier (David James) with the ensemble of 'Les Misèrables.' Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Madam Thenardier (Theresa Cunningham) and Thenardier (David James) with the ensemble of ‘Les Misèrables.’ Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

An epic story such as this requires love to keep the balance between war and tragedy. And the three-way love triangle falls to the talents of Cosette (Katie Heidbreder), Eponine (MaryKate Brouillet), and Marius (Jeffrey Shankle.) These three talented youthful performers make enticing harmonies during “A Heart Full of Love.” Heidbreder brings a sweet disposition and innocent naiveté to the role of Cosette. Her song “In My Life” reconciles her lovestruck heart with her lonely life and it is a truly beautiful moment. Brouillet exposes bittersweet nerves in her character during “On My Own,” an honest account of dreams mingled with sorrow in what is perhaps the most striking female solo of the show. The pure love that exudes from her heart, however unrequited, tugs so firmly at your heartstrings you cannot help but cry. Both Brouillet and Heidbreder have exceptional voices and are glowing in these roles.

Shankle, giving the best performance of his career, delivers Marius with such finely honed emotions and a vibrant grounded presence that it’s beyond stunning. Struck with love and balancing that against his personal conflictions toward the revolution, Shankle’s voice delivers radiance throughout the performance but especially during his moments singing back and forth with Eponine. A hauntingly heartbreaking rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” allows Shankle to exude a focused intensity straight from his core blending the mournful guilt of surviving with the brutal angst of his unrestrained frustrations. A mesmerizing performance; truly inspiring.

The show’s leading men are nothing short of phenomenal. There are not enough words to truly describe the absolutely marvelous work of Javert (Lawrence B. Munsey) and Jean Valjean (Daniel Felton.) The pair are vocal rivals; filled to the brim with raw and honest emotions that create a truer story the likes of which has never been seen. Constantly creating a palpable tension throughout the chase of the show, both Munsey and Felton deliver breathtaking duets that bring them both to the brink of destruction. Facing off from the first ferocious moment of “Prologue: On Parole,” crossing paths again and again; the vocal and emotional intensity that the pair share is unbelievable. Sparks of passionate fury rail between them and every time they circle one another, particularly during “The Confrontation” your heart leaps into your throat.

From the moment Munsey ascends the stairs of the work ship he cuts an imposing figure that strikes fear into your heart. Mastering the role of this unflappable man of the law, Munsey truly delivers the most amazingly sensational performance of his career. Grounded so deeply in the black and white reality of this character there is never a moment of doubt; from his rigid posture to the surly looks upon his face; he is the epitome of perfection in this role. The utter passion that blazes through his voice for “Stars” will make you tremble in fear and god-honest respect for the talent he exudes in this number. The ending belt alone is worthy of a standing ovation. The sheer force of his unbending will is honed so sharply you could cut the very flesh of the man he pursues on it. Munsey’s ability to finally crumble under the strains of confliction, revealing that his heart of stone in fact has a raw humanity deep inside, has rendered me speechless. His number late in Act II “Soliloquy” is the most hauntingly beautiful number in the production; a tumultuous outpouring of heart-stirring emotions that results in thunderous applause.

Taking the audience through every step of his journey is the incomparable Daniel Felton as Jean Valjean. Felton’s ability to not only experience the plethora of emotions in this character but express them in such a way that the audience feels them tenfold is nothing short of a miracle. To have such a grounded reality and be so physically, mentally, emotionally, and vocally present in this role of roles is truly a phenomenal sensation. His voice is stunning perfection, and the layers of emotion that build into that sound shake the audience to the core. Every transformation is brought to our eyes and ears with an authenticity that does the character the greatest justice of all. “Who Am I?” is such a moving number with such a powerful sound behind it that you erupt with applause for this talented man. Felton’s compassion and soul is poured into every number, especially “Come To Me,” “One Day More” and “Bring Him Home,” the latter of which being such a profound performance that nary a dry eye was found in the audience. A master of the stage with a voice from god in heaven up above, Daniel Felton is perfection as Jean Valjean.

Enjolras (Ben Lurye) and The Students of the Revolution at the Barricade. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Enjolras (Ben Lurye) and The Students of the Revolution at the Barricade. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

And so, my friends, you see it’s true, this show is desperately calling to you. To hear the people sing, to see them struggle, to feel their pains, to know their lives; all of that wrapped up in the highest quality of professionalism that musical theatre in this region has to offer: Les Misèrables at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia will be here one day more, and you may never see another production of this epic show that is quite so perfect. Do not miss this production!

Running Time: Approximately three hours, with one intermission.

Les Misèrables plays through November 10, 2013 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, please call (301) 596-6161, or purchase them online.

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Les Misèrables plays through November 10, 2013 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia – 5900 Symphony Woods Road, in Columbia, MD. For reservations, call the box office (301) 596-6161, or purchase reservations online.

LINKS
Behind the Barricades at Toby’s’-Part One: An Interview with Les Misèrables Co-Director Toby Orenstein by Amanda Gunther.

‘Behind the Barricades at Toby’s’-Part Two: An Interview with Les Misèrables’ Music Director Christopher Youstra by Amanda Gunther

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5 Responses to ‘Les Misèrables’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia by Amanda Gunther

  1. Delores Anderson August 11, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

    What a sensational review! I cannot wait to see this show! Your words are really poetic.

  2. Tori August 11, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Absolutely wonderful. We went as a group from DC Culture Connoisseurs. The singing was incredible.

    http://www.meetup.com/DC-Culture-Connoisseurs/

  3. David August 12, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    Well spoken, though I tend to disagree with the guy that played Thenardier. The leads were great.

  4. Mo Dutterer August 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Wow. What a great review. Congratulations to everyone involved with the show. Barb and I can not wait to get back from South Carolina to see the show. Congrats Toby.

  5. Leena Hornne August 15, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    i really liked the show! i think most of what you said here is true- but the older woman playing fantine wasn’t really as impressive as you led us to believe. her voice is pretty but shes too dreamy/airy-fairy and not connected with any of the songs. i dreamed a dream was a big let down

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