‘Les Misérables School Edition’ at H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program by Eric Denver

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 Les Misérables School Edition played at H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program in Arlington, VA on January 30, 2014 to a sold-out four-performance run. Under the capable and expert leadership of Producer, Director, and Musical Director Bill Podolski, this all-student extravaganza evolved over a four-month rehearsal process.

The cast of 'Les Misérables.' Photo courtesy of H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program.
The cast of ‘Les Misérables.’ Photo courtesy of H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program.

Les Misérables is the world’s longest running musical, performed in over 42 countries in 22 languages. In this world-wide evolution, Les Mis has been seen by over 65 million people, and the recent uprise in popularity is due to the blockbuster movie in 2012, and schools now performing the show. Theatergoers just cannot get enough of Les Mis.

What made the H-B Woodlawn production so special is that it was performed entirely by a cast of 55 students in the largest musical ever performed by Woodlawn. Even ten members of the 18-member orchestra were Woodlawn students – another example of the school’s diversity and talent.

And the exceptional design of the show from set design (Set Designer/Scenic Artist Evelyn Powers, Set Artist Patrick Kirwin, Set Director/Construction Thomas Mallan) to lighting (Stephen Shetler) to sound (Joel and Stephen Bluestein) to costumes (Director of Theater Arts Diana Haberstick) had students participate in the creative process. The show’s set was established in a most creative way, which actually benefited both the performer and audience. The orchestra pit sat about ten feet back from the first row of the audience. There was a half-moon additional stage that surrounded the pit which was about two feet from the audience. For those songs sung with either solo or 2-3 characters, the actors performed on this part of the frontal moon stage, which resulted in the formation of an emotional bond with the performers and the audience. Behind the orchestra pit was the school’s stage where most of the evening’s performance occurred including the barricade battles. An upper level overhung this principal stage where additional ensemble action occurred including the soldiers shooting at the barricade and where Javert jumped and committed suicide.

What makes the school’s scholastic environment special?  Woodlawn is comprised of grades 6-12, providing a broad mentor-mentee relationship.  The older students inspire the younger ones, while the younger ones demonstrate to the seniors their incredible capabilities.

Jean Valjean was admirably played by Johnny Bowman, who projected beautifully and displayed several octaves of exceptional singing. His renditions of “Who Am I” and “Bring Him Home” were stupendous, not only because of his vocal range, but also because he was a fine actor and he made the audience feel for his plight.

Nathaniel Stern’s commanding performance as Inspector Javert was so convincing. Also a fine actor, Stern was effective in his  suicide scene and in his emotional performance of “Stars.” You felt empathy for Javert – he was just doing his job bringing a ‘criminal’ to justice and you could feel his moments of frustration.

Arianna Hume was superb as the suffering Fantine and she received a well-deserved rendition for her heat-breaking rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” I won’t forget it!

Sarah Linick gave hearfelt renditions of Eponine’s “On My Own” and her duet “A Little Fall of Rain” with Marius (Evan McLean).  Evan came into his own with his powerful rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” Young Cosette, lovingly portrayed by Calista Garcia, delivered a beautiful “Castle On A Cloud” and Sophie Nicholakos’ (Older Cosette), [who also contributed the choreography] lovely voice filled the stage during “In My Life” and “A Heart Full of Love” and contributed beautiful harmonies alongside McLean and Linick in “A Heart Full of Love,” and in “In My Life” with McLean and Bowman.

Comic relief came from Charlie Mai (Thenardier) and Imogen Thomas (Madame Thenardier) in their rousing “Master of the House.” [By the way, Charlie is a natural, and from a brief chat with this graduating senior after the show, his intentions are to continue strengthening his acting skills in college]. Ari Shenkman (Gavroche) had the audience cheering as he sang the very assertive “Little People.”

The cast of 'Les Misérables.' Photo courtesy of H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program.
The cast of ‘Les Misérables.’ Photo courtesy of H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program.

Woodlawn’s next production is on May 9th and 10, 2014, when Oliver takes center stage.

Check back tomorrow DCMetroTheaterArts for my interview with Director/Musical Director/Producer Bill Podolski as he takes us  behind-the-scenes of Les Misérables.

Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with one-15 minute intermission.

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Les Misérables played January 30-February 1, 2014 at H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program – 4100 North Vacation Lane, in Arlington, VA.