Signature Theatre Les Miserables

les-miz-signature-21

Truth in Advertising?

By Ben Ryland

 

Only a few theatres have been granted performance rights to Les Miz, and those have been selected by producer Cameron Macintosh based on their reconceiving the original staging.

The nationally-acclaimed Signature Theatre just south of DC in booming Arlington was one of the chosen few.

 

Earlier this year the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia did the show in a thrilling, heart-wrenching production that was a total sell-out for the entire summer. Unhappily, despite raves from most of Washington’s theatre critics, the production at Signature has a lot to be desired.

 

From the moment one enters the theatre you are in the world of the 19th century underbelly of France. Director Eric Schaeffer has declined to discuss the money spent but with a larger than normal orchestra, more than a hundred costumes and a cast of dozens of equity actors it was a small fortune.

 

The question of what you are in for at this Les Miz is immediate. The stylized set is a cross between a ravaged junkyard and a steel roller coaster accident and makes no sense. In the first scene the prisoners are at hard labor for their crimes; shown as pulling ropes with chairs attached up and down. Was Schaeffer’s vision a stylized version? If so, then why does he jump back and forth between the stylistic and realistic? And be forewarned fans of the show- there is not a turntable barricade. There wasn’t one in Philly either only here it is sorely missed.

 

The cast consists of local professional actors from past Signature, Toby’s Dinner Theatre and Olney Theatre productions; but most of the leads are Broadway/ Road tour veterans who add nothing to the mix. Greg Stone was a weak Jean Valjean but maybe he was having an off night.

Tom Zemon seemed to be performing in Jesus Christ Superstar but singing the role of Javert.

Locals Andrew Call as Marius handled the role well & Christopher Bloch is having fun as innkeeper Thenardier and is the only one onstage that impressed me as he often does. Chris Sizemore is full of piss and vinegar as Enjolas when he should have been cast as Valjean (however he is a might young for the role). Felicia Curry plays Eponine, not as twitter pated for Marius but instead a crazy, stone-eyed stalker. The less said about the other women roles the better. Of course most can all sing the roof off the place but Les Miserable requires a lot more.

 

The costumes are appropriate rags for the most part but lacking in any wit or style. The lighting makes the show come alive in spots but misses the mark on big dramatic moments especially the deaths.

 

Intermission comments overheard in the lobby were the complete bewilderment of the storyline from newbie’s (the program lacked the usual synopsis) to major fans of the work trying to understand why they weren’t having a good time. But I must add that the show queens seemed to be the cheerleaders of the production.

 

Director Schaeffer and musical director Jon Kalbfleisch did a monumental job of such a mammoth undertaking with only 280 seats. If only the results had the passion onstage that they obviously had in attempting to reconceive the world’s most popular musical.

 

Les Miserables – Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave, Arlington, VA

Tickets: www.signature-theatre.org

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