Palm Canyon Theatre Presents A Brilliant “Les Miserables”

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

The Student Rebellion of 1832 in Paris (often confused with the French Revolution of 1789 by most Americans) becomes the inspiration for the story of “Les Miserables”, the huge 1500 page novel, written by Victor Hugo.  The musical play seen around the world for the last 28 years, created by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, and Herbert Kretzmer, with additional material by James Fenton, is currently wowing audiences at the Palm Canyon Theatre (PCT), in Palm Springs.

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Mark Almy as Inspector Javert makes an arrest. ~ Photo by Paul Hayashi

Masterfully directed by Rodney Tethal, this “Les Miz” production stars two gifted performers in the lead roles: Raymond B. Johnson as Jean ValJean, and Mark Almy as Inspector Javert.  Their voices are strong, commanding, and mesmerizing in their nuanced execution.  It’s always a pleasure to see and listen to gifted singers who also can act.  And these two gentlemen do not disappoint.  Neither does the cast of twenty-nine performers who are uniformly solid in their support in vividly bringing to life a tale of epic proportions in 1832, Paris, France.

There isn’t enough space to render a summation of the plot that covers a period of nineteen years.  Thank goodness, the story of Val ValJean and Javert is familiar to most everyone.  And if you’re not, suffice it to say, it’s Jean ValJean’s odyssey and journey through life; fueled by the power of love, the healing balm of forgiveness, and the peace that comes with redemption, that makes “Les Miserables” so appealing and universally accepted.  Johnson’s flawless falsetto rendition of the haunting song “Bring Him Home” is one of the many highlights in this splendid production.

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Jamie Leigh Walker as Cosette, and Shafik Wahhab as Marius profess their love in a song. ~ Photo by Paul Hayashi

The Palm Canyon Theatre production is steeped in emotion and passion.  The music and the lyrics are rousing and at the same time, tender, personal, and extremely affecting.  Lots of glistening eyes and a few Kleenex moments could be detected in the audience.  The tale written over 150 years ago, still, eerily resonates with audiences today.

One of the strengths of the Palm Canyon Theatre lies in its technical and creative team for each production.   A great deal of the credit for the stunning set designs and technical magic over the years belongs to resident design wizard J.W. Layne.   I still remember his wonderful designs of “Man of La Mancha”, “West Side Story”, “Cats”, and “Sunset Boulevard” among his many award-winning productions.  His set design of “Les Miz” is another visually evocative design of 1830’s Paris.

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Nicholas Sloan (center) leads the Student Rebellion. ~ Photo by Paul Hayashi

Music director Dr. Charles Britt Ensley, and his choral orchestrations for the ensemble are inspirational.  His orchestrations for the principals also, enhance their performances as well.  When the orchestrations are integrated with the full chorus, the result delivers a knockout punch to the audience.

The costumes designed by Se Layne and Jennifer Stowe has the look of authenticity and nicely help in recalling that period in French history. Prop Master Nick Edwards provides the little touches that separate a good show from a great one.

In such a large cast it’s always difficult to include everyone, however, there are always standouts.  With that said, standouts alphabetically include: Alegra Angelo; Alisha Bates as Eponine; Morgana Corelli as Madame Thenardier; Charles Harvey as The Bishop of Digne; Larry Martin as the Foreman; Se Layne as Fantine; Nicholas Sloan as Enjolras; Shafik Wahhab as Marius; Jamie Leigh Walker as Cosette; and Tom Warrick as Thenardier.

Large, epic stories that are to be told theatrically usually bring large challenges for the director.  This PCT production is fortunate to have Rodney Tethal, a creative, actor/director in charge.   His stage and traffic management skills make the scenes involving up to twenty-nine performers on stage, at times, flow like liquid gold (I’m sure the stage manager helped too).  There is nothing better than having a creative director with a personal vision in charge.

“Les Miserables” at the Palm Canyon Theatre, in Palm Springs, runs through February 9th.  For reservations and ticket call 760-323-5123.  You won’t be disappointed.

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