A 'Les Miz' to remember at Notre Dame
Notre Dame Summer Theatre (NDST) Director Rody Gilkeson has done a remarkable job with the Lehigh Valley debut of the Broadway version of "Les Miserables," through Aug. 3, Notre Dame High School, Bethlehem Township.
The NDST production has a huge cast of 52 and, on opening night, July 26, before what appeared to be a near sell-out audience, each member of the cast really put their heart and soul into each song and every scene.
The musical, a pop opera, really, based on the Victor Hugo novel with music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and an English libretto by Herbert Kretzmer, begins in in Toulon, France, in 1812 where Jean Valjean (Gilkeson) sings of his hard prison labor ("Work Song"), forced upon him by the cruel guard Javert (Rob Clausnitzer).
Gilkeson has an amazing range and handles the music and emotion wonderfully throughout the 2 1/2-hour show, starting with ("Valjean's Soliloquy"-"What Have I Done?").
Gilkeson creates a noble, if troubled, Valjean, including in the self-reflective "Who Am I? - The Trial." Gilkeson mesmerizes the audience in his captivating performance of "What Have I Done," where he expresses how he "began to hate the world who hated me," as well as with the beautiful "Bring Him Home."
Clausnitzer does an amazing job in conveying Javert's self-righteousness about enforcing the law of the land to the utmost, while also making the character sympathetic, especially in the song "Stars," where he sings, "Lord Let me find him - I will never rest - This I swear by the stars," as the entire theater bursts into beautiful twinkling stars thanks to Technical Director Brett Oliveira.
Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson (Fantine), who is costume designer for the show's amazing array of gowns, peasant-wear and soldiers' uniforms, and co-produced the production with her husband, puts forth incredible emotion in "I Dreamed a Dream."
The show's excellent choral work, with Marsh-Gilkeson as music director for the production which uses a recorded orchestral soundtrack, is exemplified in many numbers, notably the emblematic "Lovely Ladies" and the rollicking "Master of the House," with hilarious Ted Williams as Thenardier and Madame Thenardier (Mary Catherine Bracali), the inn-keepers who raise Fantine's daughter Cosette (Catherine Scheidel, in beautiful voice, as the young Cosette for "Castle On A Cloud") and the company in full voice for "Look Down"; the show's powerful, signature song, "Do You Hear the People Sing?," and "One Day More." Choreography Meghan Kohler manages to keep the large cast moving and focused.
The NDST production is filled with talented young people with splendid voices, including Patrick Davis (Marius), Madeline Prentice (Cosette), Samantha Prentice (Eponine), Ian Gilkeson (Enjolras) and Christian Clausnitzer (Gavroche).
Davis gives a sensitive and very moving rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables."
Samantha Prentice is in lovely voice for "On My Own."
Davis, Madeline Prentice and Samantha Prentice combine for beautiful harmonies on "A Heart Full Of Love."
Ian Gilkeson is outstanding in several songs, including "Dawn of Anguish."
This production of "Les Miserables" has many more fine examples of ensemble singing, duets and solos. The NDST production mines the emotional trauma, the conflicted characters and the story's inherent inspiration. It is truly a Lehigh Valley musical to be remembered.