By Cassaundra Bell
The multiple Tony Award winning Musical Drama “Les Mis’erables” continues now through March 30th on the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s stage.
This long-beloved musical phenomenon that made its triumphant debut at the Grand Rapids Civic Theater, presents dilemmas that are both soul-searching and systematic. Its players are seeking redemption, not only for assurance of their personal salvation, but for the post-revolutionary world in which they live. Theirs is a world seeped in poverty, rebellion, and unjust aristocracy – a world that demands extreme sacrifice as payment for meager survival. The power of human resilience is transcendent, and it is this central theme that has so beautifully resonated with modern audiences.
The story of “Les Mis'” reminds us of this sacrifice and tenacity time and time again, with its central figure, Jean Valjean (Jeremiah Postma), sacrificing nineteen years of his life, spent on a chain-gang because he stole a loaf of bread to feed his dying nephew. On the run from his parole at the play’s beginning, the story follows Jean-Valjean as he receives the forgiveness of a benevolent bishop, and uses this pardon to make himself a better man. Jeremiah Postma, a newcomer to the Civic stage, but a veteran of theater plays Jean- Valjean wonderfully. The angst and conviction comes through in every note. Postma is an actor who truly understands the importance of acting through a song, and in a production like “Les Mis’erables” in which there is only music, this is an incredibly important aspect. He truly had me spellbound throughout his performance with his commanding presence and wonderful resonant singing voice.
David Duiven delivers a complex and sympathetic performance as the law-abiding, righteousness-seeking Javert. Duiven’s was a refreshing performance to see because he is an actor who understands the internal conflicts of the oft-vilified parole-officer. He expertly conveys this understanding in a performance that is both vocally commanding and exhausting. His diction and phrasing were spot on. This was most prominent in the solo rendition of “Stars,” Javert’s heartfelt prayer, echoed to the Parisian night sky. Javert is a man who believes fully in the truth of his convictions, no matter how misguided they may be, and this struggle is one that reminds us that even those whom we vilify are wholly human, and as witnessed in Javert’s demise, fatalistically broken.
Audrey Filson is perfectly cast in her role of Jean Valjean’s surrogate daughter — and Marius’s love interest — Cosette. Filson’s soprano voice is clear, pure and strong, one to be remembered long after the curtains close. Through nuanced phrasing and incredible vocal ability, she sweeps the audience into her aria-like performance of the song “In My Life.” She makes us believe with her, in the sweetness of new, young love. Filson truly captures all that the character of Cosette offers in this often-bleak musical – innocence, hope and light.
Though the love triangle between newly introduced Cosette and Marius, and Marius’s longtime best friend Eponine often feels the most unrealistic of the “Les Mis'” plotlines, it provides some of the production’s most lush and beautiful musical moments. The three seasoned performers who lent their talents to these roles, remind us why this is some of the score’s best music. In “A Heart Full of Love”, a trio near the end of the first act, all three players blend their voices together to convey the nuanced of love found and lost.
Each role was brilliantly cast and the group ensembles were always in character and gelled perfectly together. Kudos to Director Bruce Tinker and Musical Director Scott Mellema for making all the correct decisions in pulling together a show of this magnitude.
The unsung heroes of this production have to be the technical gurus that used their talents to achieve the nearly impossible. The numbers tell the story well. There were more than 20 set changes, 260 props, 90-plus wigs, and 200 hand made costumes by Bob Fowle and his crew. I also loved the intricate lighting design. The attention to details really transported me back to another time and another place.
Ticket prices range from $18.00-$35.00. For more information and tickets, please call: 616-222-6650. It is a show you won’t want to miss and I am so very proud of our Grand Rapids Civic Theatre for the fantastic job they did.