Les Miserables

It’s fitting that I’m doing a review on The Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s production of Les Miserables. Not a day ago, I wrote an intimately transparent article on redemption, and the only thing worth fighting for in this world is, in fact, love. As if they ripped a page out of my brain and spilled it on the stage, the cast crafted a broadway-esque performance; conveying startling emotion that gripped the audience from act I until the last note.

The story of Les Miserables follows Jean Valjean, a man who was sentenced to 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. His road to redemption, the eternal struggle of self-loathing, guilt, and his promise to a dying mother (Fantine) to take care of her daughter, Cosette, are chronicled through a tumultuous and gritty storyline.

Les Mis is a journey of revolution, hope, debauchery, despair, and ultimately, love. The merciless and malignant nature of the human spirit is broadcast, but through the darkness, a gleaming strobe of perseverance cracks the guard of petulance.

The cast, amazing in strength and spirit, never ceased to amaze me. Gripping my seat, seemingly stoic, but boiling with underlying movement, blood coursing through my veins; the result of an accelerated heart rate.

Emily Lynne Miller plays Fantine with exquisite beauty, bellowing her pain with an angelic voice, torn between the life she wants and what her reality is. Forced into prostitution to support her infant daughter, Cosette, Fantine toils and struggles with her fate, as she dances with death. Showing her innocence through her gentle sin. Miller’s emotional output transcends and impacts, setting the tone for the life that shall precede her.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Miller about what mused her role, and she credited the love she shares with her husband. “I am madly in love with my husband, and I can translate that into the love that Fantine had for Cosette,” Miller stated with star-gazed eyes.

Miller also said, “I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do theater, If I couldn’t express myself, it’s a part of who I am”.

Peter Matthew Smith, who plays Jean Valjean, delivered a reprise worthy of the big apple. His utter ambiance, tortured and perfect, speaks to all, and grips even the most desperate pessimist, giving hope that redemption can come, but with a price. Smith’s falsetto is something for the ages, giving the audience an intimate view into Valjean’s supreme struggle and ultimate deliverance through a debtless death.

Brady D. Patsy offers up a truly conflicted soul as  Inspector Javert, the arch-enemy of  Jean Valjean. As Javert struggles to rid the earth of the thief, he is conflicted by acts of mercy at the hand of Valjean, leaving his world in purgatory. Patsy delivers a riveting look into the struggle between moral compass and steadfast pursuit of justice that can end up in murky territory.

Dave Toole plays Marius with perfect execution, painfully depicting the emptiness Marius feels until he meets Cosette, and the lengths he will go to be in her life. Toole’s voice, in a word, legendary. His search, in the midst of war and revolution, does not cease, and his fear of death only comes to life as realization that he may not see his beloved. A skillfully mastered performance.

Kate Toole, who plays Cosette, delivers a soft performance that leaves the audience drenched in innocence, and riddled with the hope of a better tomorrow. Cosette, in my eye, is the people’s champion. Born into nothing, thrown out to a cruel world, and left to twist in the proverbial wind. Toole’s soft shout into the masses, gave infinite balance.

Victoria Buchtan as Eponine. Magical. Her classical voice echoed the truly grim nature of Eponine’s existence. Beautiful, resourceful, but the one thing she wants, returned love from Marius, she cannot have.

His heart belongs to Cosette, but she will stop at nothing to be near him, even if for a moment in time and space. And for that love, she gave the ultimate sacrifice… Wanting to be loved, and so she was. In his arms, for her last breath.  A truly amazing vocal characterization.

Donovan Smith, quite simply, owned the stage as Enjorias. His voice will become one of the greats. Smith, a towering inferno of vocal power and purity, led the revolution with a stark essence of military brawn, splitting at the seams with fervor and compassion.

Tim Hartman as Master Thenardier collectively provided the audience with more than one or two laughs during the evening. Thenardier’s overt dissidence is masterfully displayed by Hartman, creating the best love/hate character in the production. “The Master of the House”, follied and fumbled his way into infamy and gave a memorable performance, peppering the crowd with life’s lessons, as told by a swindler.

Victoria English played a wretchedly charismatic and equally devious role as Madame Thenardier, the so-called “keeper” of Cosette, pre Jean Valjean. English easily coerced the audience into bouts of laughter as M.Thenardier seamlessly makes Cosette’s life a living hell, all the while running the empire her bumbling partner in crime, Master Thenardier, claims to rule with a not so iron fist. English displayed impeccable comedic timing with spot on theatrical and vocal delivery.

Honorable mentions include Kim Brown, for some of the most period accurate costumes I’ve ever seen. And Shaun J. Rolly for choreographing earth-shattering carnage in each one of the fights. The slow motion battle scene was an epic production in itself. John Woo would be proud.

You know what I love about the theater? The fact that each and every one of the performers are just regular people who output extraordinary greatness on a grand stage. After the show, you might see them in jeans, hugging their grandmother, or driving a Prius out of the parking lot.

They are not famous, nor do they drip hubris. They are modern-day superheros, wanting to give their gifts to the world, whether they reach two or two million people. Expression is their catharsis, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Everyone in the cast did a phenomenal job producing a treat for the theater goers of Pittsburgh. The whores, misfits, town’s people, and soldiers all banded together to create a morbidly synergistic experience that is not only worthy of comparison to larger venues like Broadway , but has earned something more important, an identity within these city walls. A production that will become a benchmark for its predecessors. Tres magnifique.

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