Review: Les Misérables

Cast of Les Misérables                                                                             Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Larry Laneer
September 19, 2018

Seeing the musical Les Misérables is like meeting again with an old friend. Memories come back, but you can see the changes. The touring production has a few patches of fog, and it’s not just the stage smoke, but for most theatergoers, it will be a pleasant reunion.

Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, the show is playing now at the Thelma Gaylord as part of the OKC Broadway series. This is the touring version of a production created in 2009 for the musical’s 25th anniversary. Claude-Michel Schönberg wrote the music, and Herbert Kretzmer wrote the lyrics. Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel drafted the original French text.

Misérable means unfortunate, pitiable; poor, destitute. And, brother, they were in France during the show’s setting of 1815 to 1832. The musical interweaves multiple storylines. The program provides a handy synopsis. If your memory needs jogging, this is the show with Jean Valjean and his pursuer Javert.

As an accomplished tunesmith, Schönberg stands with any musical theater composer today. The score has soaring ballads (“I Dreamed a Dream”), marches (“The People’s Song”), poignant refrains (“Bring Him Home”), and goofy novelty songs (“Beggars at the Feast”). The production has new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe, and Stephen Brooker played by a 15-piece pit band (not bad for a touring show) with string, woodwind, and brass sections.

Directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell with musical staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt (that’s a lot of captains for one ship), the production barely fills the cavernous Thelma Gaylord. You would be hard pressed to recall a darker-looking production, which fits perfectly with the story. The murk makes Paule Constables’s lighting design even more important, and it slices through the darkness like a finely honed knife. That’s good, so you can see the detailed, at times sumptuous, costumes by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland.

Overall, the production gives a fine staging to a canonical musical that rates revisiting. But it suffers slightly with too many unintelligible lyrics. In a show that’s largely sung-though, this makes a difference. It’s not a fatal difference, but it’s noticeable. Performances of some individual singers are sometimes incoherent, and chorus numbers are uneven. Granted, Schönberg and Kretzmer pack a lot into songs, sometimes more than the songs can hold.

As Valjean, Nick Cartell almost stops the show with “Bring Him Home.” His Valjean seethes as a recently released prisoner struggling in the world, does good deeds when he achieves success, and ascends into heaven in the final scene. As Javert, Josh Davis oozes sanctimoniousness and waivers at convenient times. He meets an end that should satisfy those who agree with him and those who don’t.

Mary Kate Moore as Fantine highlights the show early in the first act with “I Dreamed a Dream,” a great musical theater tune. Paige Smallwood does the same thing as Éponine at the beginning of the second act with the expressive “On My Own.”

Experienced theatergoers should enjoy revisiting Les Miz. A new generation of musical fans get the chance to experience the show fresh. In these fraught times, the musical’s finale could be seen as a call to action. The cast sings “will you join our crusade?” With elections this year, you might consider saying yes.

Les Misérables by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Herbert Kretzmer (lyrics)
OKC Broadway
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, September 19-20,
8:00 p.m. Friday, September 21, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Saturday, September 22,
1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sunday, September 23

Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.

Review: Richard III

Tyler Woods in Richard III                        Photo by April Porterfield

By Larry Laneer
September 17, 2018

That villain of villains has landed at the Myriad Gardens Water Stage in Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s Richard III. The production can be taxing, but it is a chance to see one of our leading actors at the top of his game in the title role.

Playing the part for the first time, Tyler Woods has complete command in the role of Richard from the play’s first line (“Now is the winter of our discontent”). His Richard can go from charming—almost a hail-fellow-well-met—to perversely villainous at the change of a line. Richard has other people do his dirty work and doesn’t hesitate to cast off allies who are of no further use. He goes back on his word and rumor mongers. He’s mercurial and self-centered. If he’s beginning to sound a lot like Trump, let me correct that right now. Richard has ten times more depth and range than Trump. And Woods brings every quality and subtlety to the fore. His performance carries the entire production.

Richard III is a long play with a lot of characters. The director Kathryn McGill has marshaled her forces, many of them young. Rick Lockett, an experienced actor, does a top-notch job as King Edward and Lord Stanley. Micah Weese as Catesby, Richard’s fixer-in-chief, and Justin Armer as Buckingham, Richard’s devoted ally until he’s not, give solid performances. Alexis Pudvan as Lady Anne and Alyssa Fantel as Queen Elizabeth are fine. Joseph Campbell fatally crosses Richard as Lord Rivers and curries his favor with a basket of strawberries as the Bishop of Ely.

Elisa Bierschenk’s costumes suggest an early to mid-20th century setting. Richard’s jacket has the image of what looks like a wild boar on the back (a line in the play refers to Richard’s attack on Richmond as the “boar’s annoy”). Peers have a boar or crown crest on their suit jacket pockets to show their allegiance to Richard or others. The stylish widow’s weeds increase as Richard knocks off his relatives who might claim the throne of England. But what’s with those catcher’s chest protectors both armies wear in the final scenes? It looks like they’re settling the Wars of the Roses with a softball game.

At the reviewed performance, a DJ blared mariachi music on the other side of the tubular conservatory spanning the Myriad Gardens pond. The music served as a background to this 16th-century play done in 20th-century dress. Talk about a distancing effect.

In the last 400 years, anyone who has ever spoken English has said or heard a line of Shakespeare, maybe without knowing it (“Neither a borrower nor a lender be”; “to thine own self be true”). You may have never said this in real life, but it’s great to hear Woods exclaim “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Richard III by William Shakespeare
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park
8:00 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, September 20-22, Thursday-Friday, September 27-28
Myriad Gardens Water Stage
301 W. Reno Ave.