There, out in the darkness, a fugitive running— and he has ran his way all the way up to Frederick, MD landing with his epic tale at the Way Off-Broadway Dinner Theatre. The musical epic that is sweeping the metropolitan area this summer; Les Misérables lands for a 10-weekend run in all its glory upon the intimate stage of the WOB. Directed by Bill Kiska with Musical Direction by Jordan B. Stocksdale, this infamous musical will stir emotions from the heart and is bringing audiences to their feet by the curtain call. A remarkable and bold endeavor for such a quaint and remote little company; the talent captured upon this stage does the show a great deal of musical and emotional justice.
With just one minor issue detracting from what could have otherwise been a flawless performance, the imbalance of pre-recorded music offsets and drowns out a fair number of soloists throughout the production. Surprisingly enough the music sounds close to a live orchestra and the singers put forth a tremendous effort to keep pace with the rigid format while still finding little nuances that allow the portrayal of the songs to be their own. Gavroche, Eponine, Enjolras, and even at times the show’s protagonist Jean Valjean, are all swept under in the blaring of the music and crucial words to their songs become lost.
Les Misérables has many iconic features but none quite so impressive as the massive barricade which is erected into existence in the second act of the musical. The efforts of Director Bill Kiska and Musical Director Jordan B. Stocksdale are to be commended for their impressive and fulfilling effort in creating such a construct given the challenge of their intimate space. The barricade features every piece of broken wooden furniture imaginable; from window panes and frames to busted chairs and fragments of doors, it is a literal hodgepodge of scraps that students might find lying about in the streets. Filling the stage and forcing the students of the revolution into tight quarters, it causes a most striking effect for the battles that happen therein. Because of the harsh angles and misshapen contour the actors land more naturally upon it when they fall, creating a truly horrific and harrowing scene at the final battle.
Kiska and Stocksdale take the musical, which is traditionally sung without spoken word from start to finish, and break it apart throughout the performance changing many of the recitatives and other quick singing interactions to spoken moments. At times this becomes a bit of a disconnect but overall it is executed throughout with strong emotions so that when characters are speaking rather than singing the emotion of what is being said is still well-translated. Kiska creates exceptionally stunning moments upon the stage during this unending tale of woe and strife. The one coming to mind is a shockingly evocative moment at the barricade shared between Gavroche (Luke Szukalski) and ensemble member Matthew A. Mastromatteo, playing a student of the revolution.
The ensemble is strong, voices a plenty for the larger numbers like “At the End of the Day” and “One Day More.” Featured members of the ensemble worth noting include Joe Waeyaert, who plays the drunken Grantaire and also the sinister and slimy Bamatabois, and Daniel Hafer who has a featured line in “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and starts off “Drink With Me.” Both actors have a strong stage presence with Hafer having a clear and beautiful singing voice for his two minor solos. Waeyaert’s character acting, first as the reedy-sounding seedy viper in the streets and later as the swaying drunken student in the café makes him standout among his fellow ensemble members.
Hearts swell with love whenever Les Miserables is mentioned as the ingénues caught in their lovers’ triangle comes to mind. Cosette (Kendall Sigman, who unfortunately took ill at the performance) and Marius (Danny Bertaux) have love at first sight while poor Eponine (Sarah Biggs) pines away for her dear friend the student who has her permanently sealed away in the friend zone. Bertaux and Biggs have vibrant and playful interactions, until “A Little Fall of Rain,” a striking emotionally mournful moment. Biggs brings a fierce presence to the stage, her streetwise days of being a filthy urchin showing through in her spirit. It’s her rendition of “On My Own” that is worth noting as she spins a beautiful chimerical delusion of life with Marius. When reality crashes into that song with the dawning realization that she truly is alone it becomes a shattered moment that sweeps through her being full force.
Bertaux, as the young and uncertain student of the rebellion, brings a sweet and powerful voice to the table when it comes to singing. His defining moment is surprisingly not “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” though he does give a solid performance of this number, but rather his line in “One Day More” where an emotional epiphany strikes him cold forcing his hand away from love to join the revolution. This moment in the act one finale becomes so intensely played out across his face and carried in his voice that it becomes the most memorable line of that song.
Dear Fantine (Mary Ellen Cameron) finds herself down on her luck early on. Though Cameron’s role is short-lived, she makes every moment upon the stage count. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is delivered with vocal clarity and pure expressions of a plethora of emotions. Experiencing this song as Cameron delivers it is like attending an emotional potluck as surprise after surprise of unexpected emotions well up throughout the song in the most unexpected and yet poignant of places. Her tragic scenes in the hospital feel genuine and hearing her sing “Come to Me” becomes a mournful experience.
With all the sorrow and tragic endings throughout the production there has to be a little humor to be had. Found within the comic duo of Thènardier (Matthew Crawford) and his wife Mme. Thènardier (Marcia Franklin) there are giggles a plenty for all to enjoy. Their most crass adventure in hilarity occurs during the wedding scene, their comic shenanigans during “Beggars at the Feast” becoming a bit of an unruly riot to celebrate over. Crawford creates a ruffian out of Thènardier, making us love to hate him while simultaneously hating that we love him. His thick street-poor cockney accent gritted up with gravelly guttural sounds makes him sound a bit like Bill Sykes fallen hard on his luck. “Master of the House” becomes a roaring good time as he makes little comic moments happen out of physical bits that he works into routines. His growling rendition of “Dog Eat Dog” puts the fear of his character back into place in case it has slipped the minds of the audience.
Dueling presences that bring the main arcs of the story to the audiences ears fall on the principle roles of Javert (Brady Love) and Jean Valjean (Jordan B. Stocksdale.) The pair work exceptionally well together, at times their violent exchanges looking so authentic that it becomes worrisome— particularly during “The Confrontation.” Each brings a unique singing quality to the production, Stocksdale more of a storyteller using his moments of spoken words to articulate the prisoner’s plight while Love falls back on his classic operatic sound to inspire fear into all who hear him. The pair craft exceptional moments throughout the performance— particularly when Stocksdale has made his escape from the barricade and Love enters after, calling out for Valjean, only to discover his absence, further driving the fury of the feud between them.
Love takes an impressive new approach to the rigid inspector character, making it all about understanding the mental anguish and ultimate plight that causes Javert’s transformation. His presence upon the stage is commanding and unyielding, his moments of song including “Stars” and “Soliloquy” a true showcase of his vocal abilities. Watching the scene upon the bridge (which should be noted for its simplicity and its authenticity in keeping with the plot-arc of the script) is mesmerizing in a tragic fashion as all of his thoughts fly apart all through his body, possessing him as a madness and confusion overcomes the character; a truly brilliant interpretation of this moment.
Stocksdale delivers a sweet and haunting rendition of “Bring Him Home.” Growing as his character does, Stocksdale progress through the performance and by the end of it has delivered a well-rounded and carefully articulated notion of Jean Valjean. The way he carries his body shifts every time that Valjean bares a new burden or a new trouble finds a way to haunt him, as if these emotions and instances could be physicalized and equate to weight upon his shoulders.
There will be many opportunities to hear the people sing this summer as practically everyone is performing Les Misérables and Way Off Broadway’s production is quite impressive and well worth investigating.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
Les Misérables plays through August 23, 2014 at The Way Off-Broadway Dinner Theatre— Willowtree Plaza-5 Willowdale Lane in Frederick, MD. Tickets are available for purchase by calling (301) 662-6600, or by stopping by the box office in person during normal business hours.