Music Theatre of Denton
Director – James D. Laney
Associate Director – Aileene Stark
Music Director – Arturo Ortega
Vocal Coach – Becky King
Choreographer – Liz J. Millea
Visual and Scenic Design – Philip Lamb
Costume Design – Michelle McLaren
Wig Coordinator – Lona Wolf
Lighting Design – Bradley Speck
Prop Design – Connie Hay and Terry Stark
Sound Design – Danica Bergeron
Stage Manager – Rob Stadt
Jean Valjean – Michael Rausch
Javert – Malcolm Payne, Jr.
Bishop – Tom McWhorter
Innkeeper – Paul Iwanicki
Farmer – Boomer West
Fantine – Hannah Lane
Foreman/Claquosous – Eric B. Ryan
Bamatabois/Monteparnasse – Nick Gilley
Fauchelevant/Babet – Alexis Romero
Young Cosette – Madison Verre
Thenardier – Brad Justice
Madame Thenardier – Brynne Huffman
Young Eponine – Allie McDonald
Young Azelma – Christina McDonald
Gavroche – Luke Knittle
Eponine – Amanda Childs
Cosette – Erin Matthews
Brujon – Andrew Justice
Enjolras – Tim Brawner
Marius – Daniel Myers
Combeferre – Michael Hansen
Feuilly – Anthony Ortega
Courfeyrac – Landon Berry
Joly – Sadat Hossain
Grantaire – Cameron Potts
Lesgles – Andrew Hansen
Prouvaire – Andres Pinero
Conductor – Dr. Arturo Ortega
Reeds – Maria Gabriela Alvarado, Brittany Primavera, Koryn Orcutt, Fernando Yanez, Kristen Thompson
Horns – Danielle Fisher, Eric Breon
Trumpet/Flugelhorn – Rachel Madden
Trombone/Tuba – Julie Gray
Keyboard – Shoko Abe, Jett Cheek
Violin – Michael Cervantes, Jasmine Gomez, Maria Morales, Louann Dobbs
Viola – Edwardo Rios, Annika Donnen, Veronika Vassileva
Cello – Sydney ZumMallen, Ivana Biliskov
Bass – Hamilton Pyburn
Percussion – Brad Hawkins
Reviewed Performance 10/19/2014
Reviewed by Bonnie K. Daman, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
My senior year in high school, our required reading for AP English included a gripping novel written by Victor Hugo titled Les Misérables. At the time, I was surprisingly unaware that a musical of the same name existed, telling Hugo’s tale of revolution, hope love and redemption. Also little did I know, only weeks after completing the assignment, I would have the opportunity to experience my first production of Les Misérables at the Palace Theatre in London. Thus began a love affair with Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s work and all things “Les Miz”.
Before entering the Campus Theatre in Denton, it’s quite obvious the local community shares my sentiments. Plastered on each door is a sign that indicates a SOLD OUT show and a SOLD OUT run for Music Theatre of Denton’s (MTD) final musical of their 2014 season.
Perhaps one of the most recognized and universally-known in the theatre world, Les Misérables is a musical of epic proportions. Its themes, music, and characters all combine into what might be an actor’s dream role or a theatre’s dream production. Considering the large turnout for auditions of which I’ve heard, the expectations were high for MTD’s version of Les Misérables.
Director James D. Laney and his cast and crew not only meet those expectations, they outshine them in every way imaginable.
Laney has a personal concept to the show, and so begins Act One with a prelude of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”. The idea that people come and go into our lives, filling or vacating a seat at the table, is a theme Laney chose to represent. It’s poetic and a precursor to the many relationships and lives in the musical.
MTD’s staging is minimalistic, with only three sections of scaffolding and a handful of white chairs aligned center stage. As the overture begins, the cast members remove the chairs one by one and prep the stage for the opening scene. Philip Lamb’s entire set design utilizes only the scaffolding, chairs, tables and a handful of props. It is his digital design that really gives life the overall set.
The digital projections include a series of 3D drawings representing a scene’s location, from a simple window or a detailed bow of a ship in the harbor. All drawings are projected onto a scrim which the orchestra sits behind. In several scenes, Lamb’s design has a life of its own creating the illusion of movement behind whatever action is taking place on stage. Several effects work particularly well such as the runaway cart and Javert’s suicide.
Michelle McLaren’s costume design plays a big role in completing the overall look of the show. She keeps to the traditional costumes familiar in other Les Miz productions. Corsets, bloomers, petticoats and puffy sleeves are consistent for adorning the women, and the men retain some of the classic pieces such as Enjolras’ red vest and Javert’s uniform and hat.
The lighting design by Bradley Speck relies on a good deal of spot work from his crew. When not using spotlights, the stage is either fully lit or dimmed for entire cast scenes. Speck also illuminates a small corner behind the scrim that functions for the occasional background action.
Les Misérables has minimal choreography as it’s not a song and dance musical. There are no show-stopping numbers with the exception of the rowdy “Master of the House”. As Choreographer, Liz J. Millea subtly coordinates the cast’s movements to take a specific number to the next level. Her use of succinct steps and pacing during “One Day More” with the full cast adds power to the song and portrays the revolutionaries as a united front.
Under the guidance of Music Director Arturo Ortega and Vocal Coach Becky King, the cast sounds as if they’ve been performing together for months. Not one actor slips through the cracks. Each artist is exceptional, and it gave me goose bumps to hear this amazing cast sing as one.
Laney stages the actors’ solos and asides toward the audience to really hone in on the character. Only a handful of one-liners get lost during crowd scenes, and there are some notable moments. “Drink with Me” is emotionally charged with Enjolras and Grantaire’s relationship, as is Valjean’s reaction to learning of Marius. The scene is incredibly well done.
As Jean Valjean, Michael Rausch is inspiring and gives a beautiful, tender performance. The opening prologue and solo, “What Have I Done”, gives only a glimpse of his vocal and acting range which audience members will experience over the course of the show. Rausch’s acting is abundantly transparent, with each of Valjean’s new revelations and obstacle showing on his face. “Who Am I” displays Rausch’s ability to juggle conflicting emotions within the same number. He sorrowfully articulates Valjean’s grief in abandoning the people dependent on him, while his body language expresses an urgent need to rectify a mistake and no longer live a lie.
Rausch’s most powerful song is “Bring Him Home” in Act Two. His rich, tenor voice pierces through the quiet instrumental and builds with emotion. In that moment, I could feel the audience holding their breath, not wanting to miss a single note of Rausch’s performance. His final scene, Valjean’s death, is equally mesmerizing. The abrupt change in his vocals and demeanor as Valjean transitions into the afterlife is joyful, allowing the audience to celebrate with the character rather than mourn. Malcolm Payne, Jr. plays Javert. Payne commands the stage during his character’s multiple encounters with Valjean. Their confrontation after Fantine’s death is particularly good and wrought with tension between the two men. Payne conveys a stiff, stern countenance in playing Javert, unwavering in his emotional reactions. His characterization needs a little more bite and pomp and circumstance but Payne admirably maintains Javert’s perpetual sense of justice and reward.
Next to Rausch, Payne gives one of the best male vocal performances with “Stars”. His silky baritone voice fills the auditorium with smooth transitions as it crescendos to the climax of the song. Payne’s reprise of “Stars” is gripping, and with the help of visual effects, brings Javert to his compelling end.
In the role of Fantine, Hannah Lane delivers a moving rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”. It’s a coveted song and Lane is rightly cast to perform it. In “Come to Me”, instead of a dramatic death scene, Lane sings with clarity while appearing weakened, and her final note is flawless.
Comedy relief in Les Misérables is few and far between, mainly reserved for the thieving, Cockney-accented Thenardiers. Those who know the musical usually teem with anticipation as the lead-in to “Master of the House” builds into introducing Thenardier, humorously played by Brad Justice. Donning a bright red fez hat, Justice parades through the scene with a kooky finesse that pays homage to the tantalizing role. His grand gestures and tangents to the audience further pull them into the absurdities of the character, and Justice portrays him enthusiastically throughout the entire show. In Act Two, Justice shows off his strong singing abilities in “Dog Eats Dog” and delivers a well-rounded performance.
Thenardier’s other, and better (as she would put it), half is Madame Thenardier, robustly played by the talented Brynne Huffman. Huffman basks in the over-the-top shenanigans of Madame Thenardier, traversing the stage with a planted Cheshire Cat grin and grandiose mannerisms that make her a crowd pleaser. Like Justice, Huffman makes the tomfoolery and deceptions of Madame Thenardier look easy, and her performance is exceptional.
Justice and Huffman are both engaging and use their onstage chemistry to up the dramatics when the Thenardiers are present. The final wedding scene is the highlight of their desperate hysterics, and both actors are outstanding in their roles.
Two of the youngest actors in the cast are Madison Verre as Young Cosette and Luke Knittle as Gavroche. Verre’s voice rings delicate and pure when she sings “Castle on a Cloud”. In contrast to the harsh treatment from Madame Thenardier, Verre is well cast as the sweet, innocent Cosette whom Valjean rescues from poverty. Knittle has the right amount of spunk and smart-aleck spirit to play everyone’s favorite street urchin. This continues into his verses of “Little People” that are scattered throughout the show, and the eagerness Knittle displays carries over even to Gavroche’s death.
As Marius Pontemercy, Daniel Myers has a musicality that is unmatched. His voice is vibrant and joyful when his love-struck character sings with Cosette, played by Erin Matthews, in “A Heart Full of Love”. Together, Myers and Matthews have a believable, instant bond that is endearing.
In Act Two, Myers sings the haunting “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, the director’s theme for the entire show. The heartbreaking number is one of the best of the night and Myers gives an arresting performance.
Matthews’ portrays Cosette with a refined disposition that easily matches her impeccable vocal talents. She plays her as doe-eyed and innocent and someone who should be treasured. The relationship between Cosette and Valjean, her character’s father, is played genuinely, and the grief Matthews exhibits over his death is beautifully touching.
As Eponine, sixteen-year-old Amanda Childs shows maturity beyond her years. Childs’ performance of “On My Own” is less belting and more tender as she feels her way through the emotions of the song. Her ability to convey most of her lyrics that same way is reason enough to love Childs in this role. The playful chemistry she has with Marius establishes a history of their friendship, but it’s the way Childs masks her character’s true feelings for him that gives the audience a better insight into what motivates Eponine.
Portraying Enjolras, Tim Brawner stands out as a natural leader. He plays the right mix of brothers-in-arms camaraderie and military pageantry to take on the part. Brawner has a remarkable tenor voice, showcased in “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and throughout the barricade scenes before the final battle. In Enjolras’ final moments, Brawner fulfills his role gallantly and becomes a symbol of the people and what was lost.
Others of merit within this top notch cast include Cameron Potts as Grantaire. Reminiscent of a young Danny Kaye, with his lanky build and knack for physical comedy, Potts plays Grantaire as more than a drunken crackpot by showing a wider range of emotion. Pott’s reaction to the death of Gavroche and the deaths of Grantaire’s friends adds more substance to his character.
In his role as the Bishop, Tom McWhorter’s voice serenades the audience with compassion and benevolence. Robyn McGhee, Melissa Sims and Sadat Hossain are also highlights in this amazing ensemble cast.
I would like to tell you that this is one show you cannot miss because that is the truth. However, at the time of this review, and as mentioned previously, Music Theatre of Denton’s production of Les Misérables is currently completely sold out for the remainder of their run. There’s always a possibility of cancellations so the box office will take names on a waiting list beginning one hour prior to the curtain. If you do have a golden ticket, then you’re one of the fortunate few who will get to experience this phenomenal cast and exceptional production.
For a taste of what’s to come or what you’re missing, check out as the cast flash mobs a local eatery in Denton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPL6Z7ZOMPQ
Music Theatre of Denton
214 W Hickory St.
Denton, TX 76201
***LIMITED RUN through October 26th.
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $20.00, $18.00 for seniors (62+), and $10.00 for students/children. Online service charges and fees apply.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.musictheatreofdenton.com or call their box office at 940-382-1915.