Last night I went to see the Tahoe Players production of Les Miserables at the JA Nugget. I've loved the story of Les Miserables since I happily discovered it at the age of 12, and I always thought it would be fantastic fun to be in the chorus of that show. When they held auditions last February, I had to go, but ultimately I had to decide not to do it. I was a little worried I'd feel remorse that I wasn't in the show, but I didn't. I knew the rehearsals were going to be grueling, and they were. I got to hear a lot of gossip about what was going on, and it sounded like pretty much a worse case scenario in terms of time management and the like.
The show was done with a modern interpretation and a minimalist approach in terms of set and scenery. They had two construction scaffolds on the stage that served as the prison and various homes or businesses that were needed at times. The factory looked to be a pharmaceutical one, with workers in white biohazard suits putting pills in bottles. When Javert came out to release Valjean on parole, he was dressed in police blues, with a modern flat-topped police cap, and a billy club and side arm. Later on, when Valjean had to escape to rescue Cosette, he pulled Javert's gun and held him at gunpoint, but then was disarmed and ran off without getting shot.
The backdrop was a set of photos that reflected various scenes, many which were rundown or barren American places, like in Nevada, some just city street scenes. There were scenes of prostitutes at night, or women who looked like prostitutes, and at one point, during the scene that precedes Black & Red, they did a Twitter type tableau announcing the death of LaMarque. It actually caused some laughter in an otherwise serious scene. The most controversial part, however, was when they showed a photo of Trayvon Martin in a hoodie. Apparently there were some people put off by that and wanted to walk out. For modern American singers, though, there was too much fake Cockney accent going on. I feel like a working class crew should reflect the accent of the country where it is taking place, so why not sing like you're from Texas or Brooklyn?
The pacing of the music was extremely fast. Since Toccata backed out of doing the show, the orchestra was kind of cobbled together from various musicians in the community. It was a good orchestra, though, conducted by Jane Brown from the Reno Pops with professional players. I felt like it was a bit loud at times, mostly because not all the singers were mic'ed, or the mics went out. The horns had a few wonky chords, but the string players were talented and worked up a sweat. The pacing was just too fast for me, but I tried to keep an open mind. I like more phrasing, but maybe phrasing is a stylistic choice. However, even with the words getting spit out at auctioneer speed, there were people who rushed. At one point Jane was beating the hell out of her baton to bring the orchestra up to the speed of one of the singers, and she had to mouth the words during one of Marius' pieces. It was possible that the actors just couldn't hear the orchestra well, which would honestly shock me.
Michael Jackson as Jean Valjean was fantastic. He had a beautiful voice and seemed to get stronger as the show went on. The cheers for his Bring Him Home were deafening, and unfortunately started while he was holding out his final note. Audience members annoyed me a few times. They clapped in the middle of pieces where different characters were passing the solos back and forth, instead of waiting for the entire number to be finished. Some people walked in during the middle of the first half to sit at a booth right behind the conductor, almost to the point of bumping her. Why that seat wasn't blocked off, I have no idea.
I felt like Fantine, Valjean, Cosette and Eponine had strong voices. Javert was brilliant at times, lackluster at others. One of the members of the student uprising group was pretty good, but Enjolras wasn't that exciting, and Marius almost ruined it for me. He was out of tune in some parts, notably during a duet with Cosette, and he was the biggest offender of rushing the entrances. The other thing I had a little problem with was the minimalist staging. They had a barricade with modern slogans, reminiscent of a Occupy Wall Street kind of protest. But they all had guns, and the they fought on the barricade pointing the guns towards the audience. So some of the action with Valjean and Javert happened upstage rather than down, like I saw in the San Francisco production. There were times when I felt like if I wasn't already familiar with the story, I'd have no idea what was happening from where they were going onstage. The whole sewer scene had no scenery change, the dead on the barricade were still there. Then Javert and Valjean's final confrontation took place with Javert on the scaffold above Valjean on the floor behind the barricade. Since they were both standing and facing the audience directly, the impact was really lost, I felt. Javert killed himself on the scaffold with a gun to the head, and the actor fell realistically behind a piece of plywood that was on the front of the scaffold, so that was pretty interesting.
So I'm glad I saw it and I liked the modern interpretation even though it didn't always work with the text. I'll save the gossip for another post.