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They’re not standing around the watercooler, but Cheryl Sadler, Mark Meszoros, Mark Podolski and Nicole Franz are talking about what they’ve been watching, listening to and playing during their free time.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

'Dream' experience with 'Les Misérables' at PlayhouseSquare

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted.

-- Fantine in "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Misérabels"

I, too, have dreamed a dream -- that "Les Misérables" ended just into the second act. Look, "Les Miz" probably is my favorite musical -- I've certainly seen it several more times than any other -- but I've come to realize just how little I care about Act II.

And, with Tuesday's opening-night performance of the touring production doing a week of show at PlayhouseSquare's Palace Theatre, I decided to live my dream. I sat relatively riveted during Act I, as the company belted out such classics as "At the End of the Day," Master of the House," "Stars" "One Day More" and, of course, the aforementioned emotional song by Fantine. And because what is perhaps my favorite number in the show, "On My Own," opens the second act, I stayed through intermission.

And then I fled in the night like Jean Valjean.

Shameful, you say? A true fan would never do that?

Maybe, but consider my case:

-- Again, I've seen it, several times over the last 15 years, including the recent film that is up for the best picture Academy Award.

-- I am not writing the review of this production for The News-Herald and, instead leaving that duty in the very capable hands of correspondent Bob Abelman, who does a fantastic job reviewing theater for us.

-- I was a little under the weather and very tired.

By the time the first act ended -- about 9 p.m. -- I was dreaming a dream about my couch. And yet I stayed for "One My Own," which has to say something. And boy was it worth staying for.

I was worried right before the show started when it was announced that one of the understudies for the role of Eponine, Erin Clemons, would be performing the role. I really love that song, and I am often a little disappointed by performers' interpretations of it, but bravo, Ms. Clemons. Well done. She knocked it out of the proverbial park.

In fact, if you're also maybe a little "Les Miz"ed out at this point, this production may still be worth seeing simply for the talent on stage.

With the movie still fresh in my mind, it's hard not to compare some of the performances. While I'll still take the key female performers in the film -- Anne Hathaway (Fantine) and Amanda Seyfriend (Cosette) over their respective counterparts, Genevieve LeClerc and Lauren Wiley, the latter pair was just fine. On the other hand, I thought Peter Lockyer made a better Valjean than Hugh Jackman and Andrew Varela a better Javert than Russel Crowe. In a show such as "Les Miz," it all comes down to the singing, and this pair of fellas really delivered, especially Varela. His rendition of Javert's signature number, "Stars," just about blew the roof off the place.

 Andrew Varela performs a fantastic rendition of Javert's "Stars."

And if you've seen the movie but not a stage production, I strongly encourage you to head downtown to see this show. It's interesting to see how the two are similar and different. The key difference, I think, is the way the songs are sung. For the movie, director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") wanted more dramatic, less sing-songy renditions of the songs. It's best paid off with "I Dreamed a Dream," which alone could earn Hathaway the best supporting actress Oscar. (As lovely as it is, LeClerc's just seemed inconsequential by comparison.) On the other hand, it's nice to hear these songs really SUNG again. Truly, this is the better show for your ears.

 "Master of the House," led by Thénardier (Timothy Gulan, top center) and his wife (Shawna M. Hamic, front right, was a real crowd-pleaser Tuesday night, as the catchy and funny number tends to be.

The eyes are another matter. This scaled-down production of "Les Miz" -- first in Cleveland two years ago -- can't hold a candle to previous, more elaborately staged productions or to the film. The staging is well done, of course, but it just all seems too small for the show. (For years, "Les Miz" was performed on the much larger stage of PlayhouseSquare's State Theatre, and recently the touring production of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" had to be moved from the Palace to the State because it just wouldn't fit on the former's stage.)

With apologies to folks in set design, though, the performances are what matter most, and they are topnotch.

And apologies to anyone offended by my early exit, and hopefully counted among them are none of my generous hosts from PlayhouseSquare. I promise to stay for all of "Sister Act," a musical opening at the Palace March 5.

UPDATE: Abelman's glowing review is live. Check it out. 

-- Mark Meszoros | | @nhfeatures

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Blogger Tricia Ambrose said...

I (shockingly) agree with you on the best number in the show. "I Dreamed a Dream" may get all the love but it's "On My Own" that moves me every time. But I don't see how you could leave before Empty Chairs at Empty Tables!!

February 6, 2013 at 2:48 PM 

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