I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen Les Miserables. The show was the soundtrack to my high school experience; it’s still very dear to me. I saw Colm Wilkinson as Valjean in Toronto in '98. I saw Terrence Mann as Javert on Broadway just before the show closed (before it opened again.)
This past Friday night I caught a production of the School Edition done by The Theatre Lab’s Summer Musical Theatre Institute for Teens in DC. The cast ranged in age from 13 to 19, all high schoolers. Based on what I’d heard about the Institute, I expected a good solid production.
I was blown away. Those kids were amazing!
The theater seated perhaps 150, but was a good intimate performance space. The production was done in the round (no revolving stage) with the audience on all four sides and in a small balcony above. The director broke free of the boilerplate Broadway staging and made wonderful use of the space including the balcony. (The lead-up to Javert’s suicide had me on the edge of my seat.) The pit was an electric piano, a trumpet, a violin, and percussion, which was just right for the space. Costumes were effective and sets and lighting were appropriately understated. I particularly admired their barricades: small, but undeniably barricade-like and wonderfully functional.
All that said, it was the actors who made the show. They were talented, committed, nuanced, and passionate. The chorus was predominantly female but enough capable mezzos covered the tenor parts; the sound was full and rich. The leads were stellar. It was a deeply moving performance.
Maybe high schoolers are uniquely qualified to communicate the unambiguous passions of Les Mis. Love is everything; freedom is life; tomorrow will come. I don’t know, but I’m really grateful to have seen this production. The cast should be very, very proud of their achievement. Bravissimo!
I know it’s a War Horse, but it’s a worthy show. Please tell me about your Les Miserables experiences.