The Column Online



(National Tour)

Dallas Summer Musicals

Cameron Mackintosh-Producer
Alain Boublil-Author/Dramatist
Claude-Michel Schonberg-Book & Music
Herbert Kretzmer-Lyricist
James Fenton-Additional Materials
Trevor Nunn-Adaptation & Direction
John Caird-Adaptation & Direction
Laurence Connor-Director
James Powell-Director
Matt Kinley-Set & Image Designer
Andreane Neofitou-Costume Designer
Christine Rowland-Costume Designer
Paule Constable-Lighting Designer
Mick Potter-Sound Designer
Michael Ashcroft-Musical Staging
Geoffrey Garratt-Musical Staging
59 Productions -Projections Realization
Brian Eads-Musical Director, Conductor
James Moore-Musical Supervisor
Campbell Young Associates-Hair & Wig Designer
Jack McLeod-Production Stage Manager
Alan D. Knight-Stage Manager
Stephanie Halbedel-Assistant Stage Manager
Ryan Parliament-Company Manager

Nick Cartell-Jean Valjean
Josh Davis-Javert
J Anthony Crane-Thénardier
Allison Guinn Madame Thénardier
Mary Kate Moore-Fantine
Matt ShingleDecker-Enjolras
Emily Bautista-Éponine
Robert Ariza-Marius
Jillian Butler-Cosette
Elisa Avery Dees-Little Cosette / Young Éponine
Sophie Knapp-Little Cosette/Young Éponin
Julian Emile Lerner-Petit Gervais, Gavroche
Jonah Mussolino-Petit Gervais, Gavroche
John Ambrosino-Bamatabois, Claquesous
Richard Barth-Constable, Fauchelevent, Jean Prouvaire, Swing
Felipe Barbosa Bombonato-Farmer, Babet
Gabriel Sidney Brown-Joly
Julie Cardia-Wigmaker
Sarah Cetrulo-Innkeeper’s Wife
Amelia Cormack-Ensemble
Steve Czarnecki-Factory Foreman, Champmatheu, Brujon
Nicholas Edwards-Constable, Montparnasse
Caitlin Finnie -Ensemble
Monte J. Howell-Innkeeper, Combeferre
Dayla Knapp-Ensemble
Andrew Maughan-Bishop of Digne, Lesgles, Loud Hailer
Maggie Elizabeth May-Old Woman
Ashley Dawn Mortensen-Factory Girl
Talia Simone Robinson-Ensemble
Mike Schwitter-Laborer, Feuilly
Danielle J. Summons-Ensemble
Christopher Viljoen-Courfeyrac
Michelle Beth Herman, Kyle Timson, Liz Shivener, Brett Stoelker, Tim Quartier-Swings

Reviewed Performance: 4/25/2018

Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Nineteen years for stealing carbs? Those French lawmakers were not kidding around in 1800. I hate to think what the prison time is for stealing a dozen croissants. I’m of course speaking of the tortured nineteen years that Jean Valjean spent in a hellish prison for stealing bread for his sister and her family. He is a main character in Victor Hugo’s whopper of a novel, Les Misérables, which was first published over 150 years ago.

Yet somehow Alain Boublil (Author/Dramatist) and Claude-Michel Schonberg (Book & Music) with Producer Cameron Mackintosh could vision within those pages a musical, and the rest is history.

Before my journey began as a theater critic I had already seen Les Miz on Broadway, its tours in Florida, Boston and Dallas. Now as a critic I have reviewed tour after tour that has come through Dallas Summer Musicals, Bass Performance Hall, and the ATT Performing Arts Center. So far (to my knowledge) only two local Equity houses have mounted Les Miz. But as part of the judging panel for DSMHSMTA I have judged several High Schools that have done Les Miz. So, you must be asking yourself, “Aren’t you sick of it?” No. Not at all. That score is grand, epic, and just feels the heart with love, pain, and loss. The story has characters you care for, and the music is hypnotic. Of course, this all works when the orchestra, director, actors, and singers are all on the top of their game. But when their game is off (which I’ve had to seen in some productions), you pray that the electricity shuts off, forcing theater management to cancel the rest of the show. That’s a hint from above that he doesn’t want you to see that torture of musical theater any further either.

The new national tour of Les Misérables had their press night Wednesday evening (April 25) at the Music Hall at Fair Park, home of Dallas Summer Musicals. If you saw the Les Miz tour at AT&T Performing Arts Center (which I reviewed in 2011) that is physically the same version in regards to scenic, lighting, projections, and costume design. BUT, that is a fantastic revelation. In my original review of the design elements I wrote bountiful praise on how much these designers completely recreated a new world and vision for Les Miz. The technology that designers can now use to create magic for the stage aided them to successfully do much much more with the score and book. Trust me, you won’t miss the turntable whatsoever. But that was the ONLY element that was the same from 2011, because I saw so much originality, staging, and subtext that had me constantly thinking, “This is how you rethink the material!”

Directors Laurence Connor and James Powell immediately impressed me with the non-traditional casting in several key roles. Remember, this is set in 1800 France. It didn’t affect the story or characters whatsoever. In fact, one role it added a quick visual that probably no one caught or even thought of. But because of this casting, it is adding a layer of intense, powerful subtext throughout the evening, especially in the second Act. I will let you discover it, which happens within the first number of Act Two.

Connor and Powell staged (or maybe the actor discovered the moment while in rehearsal), but it when it happened, it was haunting. two quick examples:

Josh Davis as Javert is singing “Stars” on the bridge in Act One, but midway through the song, he quietly turns around, and kneels upstage and prays as he sings. I never remember seeing a Javert kneel upstage to his god to pray. It was the first time to see this towering, evil man shows his weakness and humility to the lord, be it all alone.

In Act Two when Éponine (Emily Bautista) crosses over the barricade (bringing the letter to Marius) we here the French guards behind the barricade yell and start firing, she has her back to the audience but is at the top of the barricade. In a very subtle action as the bullets fly I saw Bautista’s shoulder and back flick. She froze and a delectate hand reached to hold onto the wood as bullets kept whizzing all around her. Where I was sitting last night, I saw all this transpire. What made this so real and in the moment was that Bautista kept it all small, but just enough that just made your heart ache.

Providing the laughs for the evening were of course the crass, nasty, bawdy, and unbathed Thénardiers. He the Master (J Anthony Crane) and she his Madame (Allison Guinn). It was during their first number, “Master of the House” that it sounded as though they got behind the orchestra or vice versa in verse two. It sounded a little wonky, but they all got back on the same lane in the chorus. Crane and Guinn clearly love playing off each other and it shows on stage. Their best comedic bon-bons was when they kept plying Valjean for more money to release Little Cosette from their filthy claws, um I mean care. Their final scene at the wedding, he dressed like Liberace and she like Zaza from La Cage Aux Follies was another jovial comedic hit for these two.

This company is unparalleled, especially the ensemble! Those rich voices. They blend their harmonies like soft honey. It is extremely difficult to decrescendo in just a beat after being in your upper range, but this ensemble does. At the end of “One Day More” they do just that as one voice, but broken down as Bass, Tenor, Alto, and Soprano. Then softly crescendo to the high note, all within their own note with pure perfection.

Within the cast there was wonderful work provided by Mary Kate Moore (Fantine) and Jillian Butler (Cosette). Both ladies possessed fantastic vocal pipes that swathed around their vocal pipes like velvet cloth.

Robert Ariza portrays Marius, one of the students rebelling, who falls in love with Cosette. It did not even click in my brain circuits until Ariza and Butler sang “A Heart Full of Love” that he was Hispanic. Never have I seen this role cast non-traditional. You must understand that actors of all colors still battle to get cast in these non-traditional roles. Much less the sole romantic lead in Les Miz set in freakin 1800 France! At intermission I read his bio as fast as I could. The audience welcomed him with open arms. Ariza was superb, especially within the second act. His version of “Empty chairs and Empty Tables” was magnificent and was met with thunderous applause. His vocals were sublime, and his interpretation of the lyrics were heartbreaking. As a theater critic, Ariza gave a commanding, knock out performance. Put personally as a fellow Hispanic in the theater, it was a moment that made my heart smile all evening long.

Special kudos must go to Andrew Maughan as the Bishop of Digne. His vocals for this small role in Act One were flawless. His tenor notes pure as glass and he went down to his bass with a vibrato that did not break. When he finished his solo, he received resounding appreciation from the audience.

Emily Bautista gave an unprecedented performance as Éponine. Instead of the usual “act like a tomboy”, she stayed feminine, beautiful and did not hide her affection for Marius (Robert Ariza). This created an exciting new subtext that was vibrant and made their chemistry much more believable. We saw her love, he didn’t. Bautista’s big solo is of course “On My Own”. Lord the song we have heard at a million auditions, callbacks, recitals, cabaret/club acts, etc. Bautista’s rendition reminded why I fell in love with that song the first time. She allowed her heart to seep through those lyrics and bleed her pain of loving someone, but him not loving her back. This beautiful girl let each of us feel that in her voice, acting, and subtext. That is TOUGH! But Bautista did just that. She was the only female of the evening to belt and sustain beyond the cut off! When she finished she received one of the loudest and longest applauses of the evening. One final thing. In her last moments, right before she died Bautista did something no other actress has done in that role that I have seen. Ariza is holding her, and instead of them singing the last notes, she instead reaches for his face and kisses him. He looked surprised but then realized right then and there, “OMG. She loved me.” Usually she dies, he kisses her. But here it was reversed, and it made it so much more powerful and the subtext from both Arias and Bautista was outstanding. Just outstanding.

As Enjolras, Matt ShingleDecker portrays the revolutionary leader of the friends of the ABC. In Hugo’s novel Enjolras is described as, “ long fair lashes, blue eyes, hair flying in the wind, rosy cheeks, pure lips, and exquisite teeth". Well once you see ShingleDecker appear on stage you easily can see he matches Hugo’s vision, right down to his golden mane. Earlier in the day I interviewed the Broadway actor who I have seen his work in Wicked and Spring Awakening. He said that after being cast Producer Cameron Mackintosh had asked that he grow his hair long, which he did. As with some of the other principal roles, ShingleDecker has achieved that rare transformation in this Les Misérables production, which is creating his own vision of Enjolras. I’ve seen some actors stay on the same level of being the serious and angry leader. ShingleDecker smartly creates a warm, engaging leader who joins in kidding Marius about love, but changes the tone on the announcement of the death of a leader. In our interview earlier that day we discussed at length subtext, and he did reveal that he carries within some of his subtext the recent up rise of student protests and the troubles that our country has faced this past few years. Thus, that evening you can’t help but see what was happening in 1800 France is still happening today. ShingleDecker vividly shows this subtext and it is gut-wrenching compelling. It is subtle, but when it appears, it pierces through the violence and gunfire to show how humanity is destroying each other. This may be just a musical, but ShingleDecker showed us the audience how powerful this art can be as well as is his talents. Even when he was not singing, he his facial expressions stay focused and connected to his characterization, especially in the barricade scenes. Pay close attention, that aforementioned subtext you see beaming through his work. ShingleDecker has a commanding tenor that adapts from rock (Rent/Spring Awakening) to classic (West side story). With his shimmering tenor vocals he succeeds smashingly with “Red and Black”, “One Day More”, and “The People’s Song”. ShingleDecker delivers a superlative performance.

Jean Valjean (Nick Cartell) is the protagonist, which leaves Javert (Josh Davis) as the antagonist. Police Inspector Javert is obsessed in his hunt of tracking down prisoner 24601, but also believes in his faith, as well in good vs. bad. But Javert becomes fanatic in his quest.

Davis is tall with strong jawbone features and large shoulders, so that when he appears from the shadows far upstage, he looks like a blood thirsty vulture appearing dead center. Davis’s cold, lifeless eyes work great with his characterization. He cares for no one and it shows, but once he is alone, but just him and his lord on the bridge to sing “Stars”, you see Davis’s eyes light up for the first time. Davis has a magnificent, booming baritone voice like a lion. His creation of “Stars” was stellar from beginning to end. He sustained that final note even beyond the orchestra cut off resulting with bravos and ear shattering applause. In Act Two Javert confronts Valjean for one last time and does the unthinkable instead. In that scene Davis displayed in raw realism a man’s insanity tearing him apart in trying to understand his god and his beliefs. Davis’s anger and fury sears through his final number as he battles his lord and his faith, knowing full well he is about to commit a sin. Davis gave a sensational performance.

Nick Cartell is unrivaled as Jean Valjean. His diction was clean and precise, and in a role like this, you just cannot sound like that Dick Tracy character Mumbles. As I have seen in versions of Les Miz, I use the solo “Soliloquy” as a litmus test on how the actor portraying the role will do. That role is requires so much and if an actor doesn’t have the chops for it, then it’s going to be a long night for both us and him. Cartell immediately put any worries at ease. His vocal rage is staggering and not once during the entire night was there a break or crack. His belt was forceful and full while his vibrato was firmly in control and not once quaver. What made Cartell’s voice stand out more was he had this layer of rock beneath the Broadway operatic vocals that all Valjeans sing in the role. I thought this added terrific originality, freshness, and muscular strength to both the music and vocals of the character that was immensely rewarding. It is very subtle, and to the naked ear no one will not even notice, but for hard core musical theater aficionados, you will slightly catch it and you will love it!

“Bring Him Home” is one of the greatest ballads ever written for a male. I had the greatest pleasure to see some of the best talent perform that song. Each brought their own special interpretation. Nick Cartell is no exception. His vocal performance of this world known song was phenomenal! But here is what he did to make it his own. After the first verse, he sang the second verse, full vibrato…in one breath. By the way in full voice! I was floored by this vocal feat. He finally took a breath to go into the third verse, and as we all know, finish it off with that high falsetto, which he sustained even though the audience had already started applauding! That is true commitment of a singer/actor. Cartell’s portrayal of Valjean was preeminent and majestic.

I honestly have lost count on how many times I’ve seen Les Misérables, what always brings me back is the music and the story. However, the surprise each time is what the cast brings to the material in making it look special and fresh. And this splendiferous cast has succeeded in doing just that in the original, bold, and new ways that will astound you.

**WARNING: Because this is a very popular show on the DSM season, you NEED to pad your travel time! It gets very congested and crowded around Fair Park! There will be long lines getting into Fair Park itself.

LES MISERABLES (National Tour)
Dallas Summer Musicals
Music Hall at Fair Park
Through Sunday May 6, 2018
For tickets, dates, times, parking, etc.: