It’s not like one reviews a new production of Les Miserables by writing on a blank slate. Not when you’ve seen it many times, from the Orpheum in Omaha to the Palace in London.
Instead, it becomes a question of when the goose bumps first rise and when the handkerchief is pulled from a pocket as the tears first fall.
So what happened on preview night at the Omaha Community Playhouse? I’ll spare you the exact moments of the bump-rise and the tear-fall, but simply warn that you’ll deprive yourself of magnificent moments of your own if you don’t quickly reserve seats. We didn’t pay on preview night but we’ll call the box office and buy seats so we can experience the musical again before it closes Oct. 27.
I’d do that if only to revisit the choral power that ends Act One with “One Day More,” and Act Two with “Do You Hear the People Sing.”
And it’s also worth more than the $40 ticket price to hear Timothy Shew’s Jean Valjean sing, “Bring Him Home,” or Julie Crowell’s Fantine do “I Dreamed a Dream.” Can you believe that Abigael Stewart, fresh out of Westside High, could be the best ever Eponine, singing “On My Own?”
Yes, I own and often watch the wonderful 10th anniversary performance in London’s Albert Hall and I’ve seen the 25th anniversary celebration on public television. The Playhouse version can even survive those comparisons.
Now my fellow enthusiasts are wondering if Javert, Marius, Cosette and others fell short of such excitement. Not at all. I prefer a stiffer, more staccato Inspector Javert, but Joseph Dignoti didn’t disappoint either vocally or otherwise, and he worked with director Susie Baer Collins to create as well staged a final exit as I’ve seen.
Without belaboring the vocal weaknesses of the recent movie version, lets compare its Marius and Cosette with Joseph T. O’Connor II and Jennifer Tritz at the Playhouse. Eddie Redmayne was an excellent Marius in the movie and its Cosette was awful in, for example, “A Heart Full of Love.”
O’Connor sounds as good or better than any Marius since the original, and Tritz tops many Cosettes. They’re terrific.
So what else do you need? Well, it helped to have Tyler Buglewicz as Enjolras, the leader of the student revolutionaries. His strong voice on “Red and Black” was a pleasant surprise since I’d missed his suburban theater outings.
Cork Ramer and Megan McGuire were every bit as good as expected in the popular roles of the “Master of the House” and his big and bawdy wife. She gets to deliver the best comic lyrics of this musical masterpiece when she shares her opinion of her man.
The ensemble was exceptional, and arguably the best cameo role came from Mark Thornburg as the generous Bishop.
Which reminds me: My favorite contributor to this epic creation is not the original novelist Victor Hugo or even the musical’s creators, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michael Schonberg, who gave us the original French text and the music.
It’s Herbert Kretzmer who provided the English lyrics that stuck in my memory from the first hearing.
Perhaps the same should be said about the yet unsung heroes of the Playhouse production, the many who assisted director Collins in this fitting climax to her great community theater career.
Start with her top assistant Carl Beck and musical director Jim Boggess (he had me at the very start of the overture), and continue with everyone from scenic genius Jim Othuse to costume designer Georgiann Regan and the sound work of Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco, and you still haven’t tossed enough credit around.
Did nothing fall short? Okay, if all this praise requires some balance, a wine bottle fell over without spilling and a cane fell to the floor. The turntable seemed a bit swift for Eponine’s stroll and the wounded Marius was too ably helpful when Valjean lifted him for the escape through the sewers of Paris.
All this is written with the assumption that few of you are unfamiliar with the story, but just in case you don’t know Valjean stole a loaf of bread to feed his family, spent years as a convict, then was pursued by Javert when he broke parole. He rescued Cosette for her dying mother Fantine, etc.
If all this is new to you, arrive early enough to read the synopsis. Join the 65 million or so who’ve seen and heard this wonder in 42 countries.
Les Miserables runs Sept. 20-Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays on the Hawks Mainstage of the Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. Tickets are $40 adults, $24 students with no discounts available. Call 402.553.0800 or visit omahaplayhouse.org.