I saw the “Les Mis” story anew last week during opening night for Greasepaint Youtheatre’s production of “Les Miserables School Edition.” It was my first time experiencing a stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel since the advent of “Occupy Wall Street” — a movement that’s translating the lingo of “haves” and “have nots” into numerical terms.
I felt like part of the 1% Friday night — not because the house was packed with people of great means. But because I had a ticket. This is the first Greasepaint Youtheatre show to completely sell out its run before opening night, according to producing artistic director Maureen Dias Watson. So 99% of the people hoping to see the show won’t have the opportunity. It’s a shame, because “Les Mis” at Greasepaint is big, bold and beautiful.
Much of the production’s grandeur comes from music elegantly and energetically performed by a 12-piece orchestra, and ensemble vocals approached the quality I’ve enjoyed during several touring productions of “Les Mis.” Musical direction for this production is the work of Reynaldo Saenz.
Rebecca Woodbury, who studies vocal performance at ASU in Tempe, makes her Greasepaint Youtheatre debut as Cosette in this production. It’s easy to imagine Woodbury singing this and other roles on a much larger scale, so I hope her sights are set on auditioning soon for national touring productions of various musical theater works.
Greasepaint Youtheatre assembled a first-rate creative team for this production, which is directed by Sara Bernstein and features choreography by Molly Lajoie. “Les Miserables” is only as believable as its barricade, and set designer David Weiss nails it. Brick walls and various vignettes for other scenes round out his work — which gives an authentic feel to each setting, from tavern to courtyard.
Still, I found myself wishing for a somewhat grittier vibe. Both sets and costumes could have used an extra layer of grime, since it’s hard to imagine prisoners working with pristine feet and peasants sporting nearly spotless clothing. Nonetheless, costume design by Jean Aiken, which features great attention to detail, is lovely. Every element of the show transports viewers to mid-19th century France.
Lighting design by Dori Brown and sound design by Pete Bish are best appreciated during the barricade scene and sewer scene that follows. Both battle and sewer sounds feel eerily real. Sound equipment for the production was provided by Nearly Naked Theatre of Phoenix.
Other community organizations assisted with the production as well. Scottsdale Neighborhood Arts Place provided researsal space. Southwest Shakespeare Company of Mesa and Tesseract School of Phoenix helped with costuming, and Great Scott Productions provided props. The loveliest of the latter was a pair of silver candlesticks that shone for a time on a lone table sitting center stage.
Boston Scott exhibits a rare blend of acting and vocal performance skills. Despite struggling with a few of the high notes, Scott brings real depth to Jean Valjean. A great Gavroche is a must and Casey Likes, another newcomer to Greasepaint, delivers smile and spunk with playful precision.
Other cast members include Jessica Arnold (Fantine), Cheyanne Ballou (Little Cosette), Ryan Beamon (Thenardier), Bjorn Eriksson (Enjolras), Luke Powell (Marius), Tasha Spear (Eponine), Tanner Van Parys (Javert), Johnna Watson (Young Eponine). The stellar cast of 39 makes it easy to forget at times that you’re watching young non-professional performers.
The power of “Les Miserables” stems from Hugo’s insight translated into strong storytelling. Program notes evidence Dias Watson’s grasp of Hugo’s inspiration and intent, and the show reflects direction well-grounded in the plight of poor living in despair amidst the decadence of the rich.
“The best theatre impacts both individuals and societies,” writes Dias Watson, “enabling them to see those who may have been invisible to them before.” The Greasepaint Youtheatre production of “Les Miserables School Edition” makes clear that the 99% have always been with us, and that revolution never ends.
Note: Greasepaint Youtheatre has added an additional performance Sun, Jan. 29 at 7pm. Click here for details.
Coming up: More French revolution tales
Photos: Barry Smith