ADRIAN — Over all the years that the Croswell Opera House has produced an all-area high school musical, hundreds of students have had the unique learning experience of being onstage and behind the scenes of a professionally run show. And certainly, the lessons they learn go far beyond honing their performing or technical skills.
The other side of the experience, that of the audience, is that they get to see some of the level of talent that exists in this region’s high schools. And pretty consistently throughout all these productions, any number of those young people have been anywhere from really good to downright phenomenal.
This year’s edition of the all-area high school musical, the student version of “Les Miserables,” is no exception.
Before I go any further, it’s important to note that this review is of Thursday’s audience-dress rehearsal. And so, while the performance was not exactly fully buttoned-up, that’s to be expected and so things that I would normally call out if it were opening night, I’m not going to.
All I’ll say on that front is that I would certainly presume that most of the things that didn't go their best will get solved. Ironing out things like lighting, sound and projection-timing issues, and giving another acting note here and there, is all part of what rehearsals are for, after all.
What's important is that the cast that director Donna Andre is working with is clearly up to the challenge of staging this show. When “Les Mis” got turned into a student version, it wasn’t made any easier to sing, and all of the emotion and power of the original is still there. And overall, this cast does a really good job with it.
It’s true, of course, that not everyone has an especially strong singing voice, but they can sure hit both the high notes and the low notes, which often come in the same song. And as far as the acting is concerned, while the level of talent varies too, there’s not a bad performance in the bunch. Everyone works hard and just “gets it” when it comes to this show.
Having said that, having a full-fledged audience to bring up the energy level in the theater will help. I could have wished, for example, for a little more emotional punch to “The People’s Song,” which after all is supposed to be one of the show’s high points. And it’s not the fault of anyone on the stage.
The lead roles are generally well cast and in some cases, remarkably so. Jeremy Szymanski as Jean Valjean can definitely handle the vocal part of his role (although “Bring Him Home,” which is a lovely song, wasn’t his best work at this rehearsal), and does a nice job with the character itself. He’s especially good when the sparks fly between Valjean and Javert, and he has the acting range to be either righteously angry or tender and be believable at both ends of the spectrum.
Javert himself is played by Oden Berthelsen, and he’s hands-down one of the cast’s finest members. He has both the vocal and the emotional heft to play this complicated, conflicted person, and besides that is just a solid presence onstage.
So is Elise Brown as the adult Eponine. Eponine definitely has the show’s most tragic story arc: raised as a favored child, becoming one of the student revolutionaries, in love with Marius and yet willing to help him connect with the woman he loves, and the first casualty of the revolution. And through all of that, Brown is fantastic. What’s more, her rendition of “On My Own” is one of the moments in this production that will bring the house down.
Especially fine performances also come from Lila Brighton as Fantine (who has her own show-stopper solo, of course, with “I Dreamed a Dream”), Emily Haselschwerdt as the adult Cosette, Hope Green as Madame Thenardier, and Sophia Bernard as Gavroche. It’s obviously interesting that director Andre cast a girl in this role, but the youngster who, it must be remembered, was terrific in the lead role in the Croswell’s “Matilda” is as solid as can be in this part.
The students in other major roles do good, solid work too: Matthew Antalek as Marius, Gabriel Ebeling as Thenardier (although it would be great to see both the Thenardiers be even MORE over the top and smarmy than they already are), and Chance Adkins as Enjolras.
And as far as the ensemble goes, as a group they look great and sound even better.
The production moves along smartly, scene changes and all, and benefits from good work by the pit orchestra, led by Adam P. Miller, and from Chris Sancho’s superb costuming. It also goes pretty well from a staging perspective with, perhaps, a couple of exceptions.
For one thing, even though the stage goes dark, there’s enough light onstage to see dead characters get up and walk off, which looks kind of jarring but there may be no real way around that. Seeing Fantine, who’s just died, get out of bed and walk away is one of those moments.
And in the battle scene, does it make sense that the revolutionaries have built this huge barricade and then stand straight up atop it with no cover at all? I mean, yes, of course, they’re (almost) all supposed to die by the end of the scene, but in real life they would have been picked off instantly.
It also probably would look less weird if the rifle-reloading process was pretty much dispensed with. Of course the rifles of those days needed ramrods in order to be loaded. But when there are no ramrods, you’re left with watching the actors frantically pumping their arms up and down on imaginary ones, and it looks goofy.
But those sorts of things are minor points in what’s otherwise a solid production that audiences should really enjoy. The drama, emotion and musicality you expect of “Les Mis” is definitely there. So, as always, is the chance to see just what a high level of performing talent there is among the students in this area.
If you go
WHAT: “Les Miserables (Student Version)”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 6. The Jan. 30 show and the Feb. 5 evening show will also be livestreamed.
WHERE: Croswell Opera House, 129 E. Maumee St., Adrian
TICKETS: $12-$25 for adults, $12 for students. Livestreamed performances are $25 per device.
HOW TO ORDER: Online at croswell.org or by calling 517-264-7469. Livestream tickets are available via a link at croswell.org.
NOTE: Masks or face shields are required of all audience members.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: 'Les Miserables' at Croswell gives young cast a chance to shine