Monday, August 6, 2012

Young cast captures the spirit and passion of 'Les Miz'

Pictured above are the students, Enjolras (played by Alex Barnett), Jean Valjean (played by Tyler Ravert), and as Marius (Joshua Sell) and Eponine (Sydne Lyons) in the front. Photo by Zach Frantz
By Cheryl Thornburg
From the very first note, Genesius Theatre's production of "Les Miserables" captured my attention and my heart. The unseen orchestra set the tone for what turned out to be an amazing afternoon at the theater. The cast, all middle and high school students, delivered the story and songs with a maturity and passion way beyond their years.
Based on Victor Hugo's novel and set in 19th century Paris as seeds of revolution are beginning to grow, "Les Miz" is a tale of survival, redemption, young love and the struggle for freedom.

The words and music of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg are challenging for any actor and these young performers more than met that challenge.
At the center of the story are two men, Jean Valjean played by Tyler Ravert and Inspector Javert played by Riley Pearson. Valjean was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, is paroled 19 years later, then disappears sparking a lifelong, relentless quest by Javert to recapture him.

Ravert's character ages many years over the course of the show. His soft, sensitive tenor is well suited to Valjean's songs, and he particularly shines in the second act when he sings "Bring Him Home," with its final high notes out of the range of most men.
Pearson delivers an imposing and tenacious Javert and the confrontational chemistry between him and Ravert works well. His solo "Stars" gives him a chance to show a more human side.

This show features incredible music and some of the best songs go to the ladies.
Sophie Gialloreto owns "I Dreamed a Dream," Fantine's exquisite ballad. She also embodies the tragic and frail Fantine who works in factories,and then worse, to support her young daughter, Cosette.
Sydne Lyons is perfect as Eponine, the feisty, streetwise daughter of the devious and greedy innkeepers, the Thenardiers.  Lyons'solo "On My Own" is delivered with passion and intensity fit for professional theater.
Kaley Harman plays Cosette with a softness and innocence in contrast to Eponine's outgoing and outspoken nature.  Both young women are in love with Marius, a college student involved in the revolutionary movement, played by Joshus Sell. Put all three of them together and you get a memorable love-triangle ballad, "A Heart Full of  Love."

Offsetting the seriousness of much of  "Les Miz" are the aforementioned loveable scoundrels, the Thenardiers, played by Alex Potcovaru and Emily Levan with the outrageous flamboyance befitting two of the best-loved characters from the show.

There are many notable performances, including some from very young actors. Genevieve Ganon,5, played young Cosette Sunday, giving a sweet, heart-wrenching performance  of  “Castle on a Cloud." Her sister, Margoux, played young Eponine. The two alternate the roles.
Also stealing the audience's hearts was another sister, Emerson Gagnon as Gavroche, the spunky young boy who gets involved with the revolution. Her rendition of "Little People," is a scene-stealer and actually could be a theme song for this production. To paraphrase -- it's amazing "what little people can do."

Alex Barnett as Enjolras takes the lead on some of the most powerful and stirring songs, including "Do You Hear the People Sing" and "One Day More." He is backed by a powerful and cohesive ensemble, creating the music that will run through your head long after you leave the theater.
Though not playing a major role, James Damore gives a standout performance as the bishop who helps turn Valjean's life around. His smooth, soothing tenor is unforgettable as he forgives Valjean.
The show has a huge cast, ranging in age from 5 to 18. Remaining cast members include Ben Wilder, Grayson Ziegler, Levi Sledo, Jeremy Bell, Evan Malarkey, Nick Schmoyer, Spencer Barbara, Eion Lyons, RJ Voit, Riley Feltenberger, Kyle Schumaker, Trey Petraca, Daniel  Tetrealt, Julia Bachman, Olivia Damore, Catherine Ewing, Kelly Fries, Alex Goshert, Krista Grevas, Erika Guthier, Grace Harmon, Emma Heffner, Hunter Jones, Morgan Keener, Maura Malarkey, Rachel Ohnsman, Priscilla Olivares, Emily Peffer, Kaitlyn Reber, Hannah Schreffler, Sydney Schultz, MacKenzie Siegel, Ellie Smith, Becca Snyder, Emily Snyder, Johanna Swoyer, Kira Voit, and Victoria Wagner. 

A team of talented adults helped these young performers  produce such a high level of entertainment. The show is directed by Hope L. O’Pake with Meegan Gagnon as music director. Choreography was by Amanda Leam Guistwite; lights, sound and special effects design by Jeff Cusano; set design by Sabrina Hettinger and Stacy Lyons. Zach Frantz is stage manager for the show, which ran like clockwork Sunday.  The ingenious wheeled set pieces changed so quickly and smoothly that the show never bogged down.   Kudos to the many, many people who made that happen.

“Les Misérables: School Edition” continues Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 8 and 9 at 7 p.m.; Friday Aug. 10 at 8 p.m. Saturday Aug. 11 at 3 p.m. and  8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 12 at 3 p.m. at Genesius Theatre, 153 Walnut St. (10th and Walnut) in Reading. To purchase tickets with all major credit cards and get more information, visit the website at or call 610-373-9500 to purchase tickets with credit cards only. If you need more information contact the theater at 610-371-8151. All tickets are $15 and credit card fees apply. Genesius Theatre is handicap accessible and there is free parking next to the theater (limited spaces available). This production is rated PG-13 for Content and Language


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