1815: Toulon, France – entering from the audience is a chain gang of prisoners, one being Jean Valjean played by JORDAN B. STOCKSDALE and Prison Guard Javert played by BRADY LOVE. After serving nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread and several unsuccessful prison breaks, Valjean is finally released. But Javert vows to never forget a man like him (Valjean) as Love brings about the harsh anger in this character.
The opening “Prologue” and “Soliloquy” depicts many of the magnificent and emotional scenes in Les Misérables now in production at The Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre & Children’s Theatre in Frederick, MD. An original production by Alan Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, and based on Victor Hugo’s novel, Bill Kiska is quite brilliant with Direction and Staging.
The story line continues with Valjean happening upon the house of Bishop of Digne portrayed by DAVID MARCUS. Valjean is treated with kindness and understanding. Unfortunately, he chooses to steal the Bishop’s silverware. Arrested and returned to the Bishop’s house, the Bishop agrees with Valjean that the silverware is a gift. Stocksdale’s fantastic facial expressions and gestures clearly show Valjean’s change of heart and vows to become an honest man and use the silver to help those less fortunate.
1823: Montreuil-Sur-Mer, France – Jean Valjean has disguised his identity and invented an ingenious manufacturing process, bringing the town prosperity. Eventually he becomes the Mayor of the Town as presented in “At the End of the Day” that is performed by the ensemble of factory workers. Among these workers is down on her luck Fantine played by MARY ELLEN CAMERON. Abandoned by her daughter’s aristocrat father, she’s forced to send money to the Inn keeper and his wife who are taking care of Cosette. However, it is discovered she is only able to do so by earning a little extra sleeping around. Fantine’s painful plight is told in “I Dreamed a Dream.” Cameron is just beautiful in this role.
“Lovely Ladies” is a tough-as-nails number with the prostitutes and their clients (ensemble), and is a true representation of the treatment of women in the mid-19th Century. The song itself is upbeat and humorous but demonstrates a harsh reality for the lower class. The mood shifts with Jean Valjean’s seriously-charged solo, “Who Am I?” after Javert recognizes him. The emotional and physical chemistry between Stocksdale and Love is immeasurable that it will leave the audience cringing.
Just one of many tear-jerker scenes is “Fantine’s Death” followed by Young Cosette played by SARAH SZUKALSKI, singing “Castle on a Cloud.” Enter the “Master of the House,” and riotous performances by MARCIA FRANKLIN playing Madame Thenardier and Thenardier portrayed by the talented MATTHEW CRAWFORD. Get ready – these two are beyond the comic relief as they steal this scene with their laugh-out-loud bawdiness.
“…Les Misérables is an extraordinary adventure with tales of suffering, heart-ache, revolution, and triumph.”
1832: The Streets of Paris – Beggars have littered the streets and among them is street urchin Gavroche played by LUKE SZUKALSKI. He is a sneaky little boy who is quite clever in gaining knowledge about the impending revolution. SZUKALSKI is larger than life as this very likable character.
SARAH BIGGS’ Eponine is remarkable. A young talent, Biggs is on the brink of becoming a star. The once adored Thenardier’s little girl, Eponine is now living on the streets. Her life too has become fraught with painful circumstances along with her unrequited love for Marius portrayed by DANNY BERTAUX. Biggs’ voice soars in, “In My Life” along with the song stylings of Valjean, Marius, and Cosette.
There is no doubt, Biggs and Bertaux have an incredible chemistry but Bertaux’s character has eyes for Cosette played by KENDALL SIGMAN. Cosette is the adopted daughter of Jean Valjean, who is naïve and well protected.
The fight of the Barricade was uniquely executed with red, white, and blue lighting, the swapping of guns amongst the characters, a smoky fog and a stunning musical score. Enjolras played by MATT ROTHENBERG is the leader of the student revolutionaries and one of Marius’ best friends. ROTHENBERG is a tour de force with both his singing and acting talents. An absolutely gut-retching scene is Eponine’s death after being shot at the barricade. She falls into Marius’ arms and their duet, “A Little Rain Must Fall,” requires a handful of tissues. Unfortunately, there are more deaths to come. In all its simplicity, Javert delivers a powerful suicide scene as he comes to terms with the mistakes and judgments he had placed on Jean Valjean.
After the revolution as the ensemble assembles at the tavern, Marius (BERTAUX) performs an impressive rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” Again there is a shift in mood with the “Wedding Chorale” as Cosette and Marius wed and the “Beggars at the Feast” – aka the Thenardiers – crash the reception.
The finale is Jean Valjean writing his last confession on his death bed with Cosette and Marius at his side. Fantine and Eponine receive him to heaven, to “Bring Him Home.” Then the ensemble sings the more hopeful “At the End of the Day,” and waving the French flag in glory.
The unbelievably talented ensemble includes: DANIEL HAFER as Factory Foreman/ensemble, TORI WEAVER as the Factory Woman/ensemble, MEGAN WEST as the Wigmaker/ensemble, and JOE WAEYAERT as Bamatabois/ensemble.
JAIMIE LEE KISKA, CECELIA CIZEK, BRIANA GAUSE, MARCIA FRANKLIN, and KENDALL SIGMAN portray factory workers, lovely ladies and/or beggars. MATTHEW CRAWFORD, ZACHARY HARRIS, MATTHEW A. MASTROMATTEO, THOMAS STRATTON and MATT ROTHENBERG are tavern drinkers and student revolutionaries.
The set was designed by Bill Kiska and Jordan B. Stockdale, is a “stone” wall with varying levels and stairs, a balcony with a railing, boarded up windows and partial arches stage left and right. It triples as the factory, the beggar’s street, and Innkeeper’s tavern. The garden setting is changed with a hillside back-drop, a bench and garden gate.
Flo Arnold, Denise Hoover and Bill Kiska bring to life the traditional Les Miserables costumes with the torn dresses of the factory workers in dull colors while the prostitutes, though torn and tattered as well, wore bright colored skirts of satin, lace and sequins. The male revolutionaries wore trousers and billowy shirts whereas Jean Valjean, Cosette, and Javert dressed in more sophisticated and expensive ensembles, showing their upper class stations.
This production of Les Misérables is an extraordinary adventure with tales of suffering, heart-ache, revolution and triumph. Performed in an intimate dinner theatre space, where the cast serves lunch/dinner and then give a masterful performance, it is easy to become emotionally involve with these characters. This is the must-see production of this summer!
Running Time: 2-1/2 hours with a 15 minute intermission.
Les Misérables plays through August 23, 2014 at The Way Off-Broadway Dinner Theatre, Willowtree Plaza at 5 Willowdale Lane in Frederick, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at (301) 662-6600 or click here.