Wednesday, March 4, 2015

reviews - LES MISERABLES - Arizona Broadway Theatre

"The first thing that hits you as you enter ABT’s theatre with its redesigned stage and a set that appears to be spreading out, reaching way past the proscenium on either side, is just how giant this new production is going to be. This new Peoria production may not quite appear as it did back in ’85 but with its massive cast of full-bodied voices, Mark 4Man’s powerful sounding orchestra, a dazzling, ever moving light show and an eye-catching set that forever appears to expand, Les Miserables, as presented at Arizona Broadway Theatre, is truly epic. Paul Black’s outstanding, ever assembling set and rock concert lighting design aside, at the end of the day with any production of Les Miz, the show ultimately succeeds or fails with its casting.  With a production this large, pinpointing individual performances that standout could take all day.  Hannah Bentley’s Fantine effectively elicits our sympathy just as the character should, Patton Chandler’s Empty Chairs at Empty Tables as the student Marius is a musical highlight, and Laurie Elizabeth Gardner’s Cosette makes it easy for us to understand how Marius could fall in love with for her so fast.  Brad Rupp and Johanna Carlisle make an impressive, comical team as the thieving, vulgar Thenardiers, particularly Johanna whose Madame Thenardier is much closer in tone to the character’s original presentation than some of the more over-the-top, cartoonish portrayals that have plagued this colorful character in subsequent productions. Mark DiConzo’s Javert is as full-bodied and as powerful as the intimidating character should be, while Kiel Klaphake as Valjean impresses when singing solo but appears less forceful a presence when dueling with Javert.  That robust quality required of the character is markedly absent when sharing the stage with others.  But let’s give credit where it’s really due.  It’s always a thrill to see local, young talent develop with each successive new production, and here the salute needs to go to Carly Nicole Grossman as Eponine.  There’s always a thrill when you feel you may be watching something special happening, and here, despite recent professional appearances at both ABT and Phoenix Theatre, it’s with Les Miserables that Carly has truly grabbed her opportunity to shine.  As Thenardier’s little girl, Carly pours her heart and soul into On My Own.  It really is a show-stopper as illustrated not only by the huge applause but by the roars of audience approval that accompanied the clapping. If there were any Friday night jitters, they were smoothed over by Saturday.  Director James Rio keeps the whole production nicely in check with sharp, non-stop scene transitions and adds several directorial flourishes of his own, including the use of an extra bright spotlight that momentarily hangs over each character as he or she dies." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"Arizona Broadway Theatre prides itself on producing big Broadway musicals, and their current production of Les Misérables is no exception. A huge cast, an expansive set design, an endless parade of costumes, and exceptional lighting combine to make this one of ABT's most elaborate productions yet. While the end result amounts to a fine production of this well-loved musical, there are some problems with the direction and cast that stop it just short of becoming a superior one. The cast that ABT has assembled includes Executive Producer Kiel Klaphake as Valjean and Mark DiConzo as Javert, the inspector who makes it his lifelong mission to hunt Valjean down. Both are giving confident performances, with nuance and depth. While DiConzo's deep voice resonates on Javert's two solo songs, Klaphake's lighter voice doesn't quite soar as high as past Valjeans I've seen. However, he still manages to bring a sense of care to the part and throws himself into the role, so while the vocals may not quite be as strong, it still ends up a good portrayal. In the supporting cast, there are some hits and misses, mostly due to some confusion with the direction and a few pacing issues. As Fantine, the woman whose child, Cosette, Valjean helps raise, Hannah Bentley delivers a nice rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream," though the somewhat sunny disposition she brings to the first half of her portrayal is at odds with the role of a struggling, downtrodden woman. Local teenager Carly Nicole Grossman is giving a stellar turn as Eponine, the poor girl in love with the richer Marius. Grossman brings a rich sense of urgency and deep feeling to not only her line deliveries but her solo "On My Own," which she belts to the rafters of the theatre. This is a star making performance and I look forward to what Grossman will tackle next. Brad Rupp and Johanna Carlisle play the comic duo the Thénardiers, the couple who are not only Eponine's parents but Cosette's original caretakers when she was much younger. They factor into many of the plot points and both bring the appropriate balance of comedy and drama to the parts. It is nice that director James Rio doesn't allow them to go over the top, as many actors who have played these parts in recent productions have done. Director Rio has done an adequate job in moving the action along and deriving fine performances from his large cast. However, there are some pacing issues and some of the younger cast members seem to not quite know what they should be doing in certain scenes. Fortunately, those moments are few and Rio has added some original touches to keep things fresh for anyone who has seen this show before. Creative elements are exceptional. Paul Black's elaborate, ever changing set design is matched by his stellar light design to create a landscape of evocative settings. While I have a few quibbles with this production, overall Arizona Broadway Theatre's presentation of Les Misérables still amounts to a fine production of this classic musical. Hopefully, the kinks, pacing issues, and somewhat uncertain performances that I experienced on opening night have been worked out with more performances under this talented cast's belt. Les Misérables is a story with an amazing amount of emotion and depth and even with a few issues, this production is a worthwhile effort." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"Arizona Broadway Theatre's LES MIS Is Magnificent! Thus, A Bouquet of Bravos! Magnificent is not a descriptor to be used lightly. It embodies such attributes as breathtaking, striking, spectacular, awesome, inspiring, masterly, and virtuoso ~ all of which must unequivocally be applied to Arizona Broadway Theatre's current production of LES MISERABLES.  The first accolade, therefore, goes to Director James Rio for his exceptional staging of the classic story of a French peasant's journey from imprisonment to redemption. Giving texture to these variations on righteousness and of character requires an ensemble of especially gifted talents. Of these, there is no shortage among the brilliant cast of ABT's Les Mis.  Thus, I offer a bouquet of bravos to the following standouts:  Kiel Klaphake (ABT's visionary Executive Producer and Founder) for his rich and nuanced performance ~ and stunning and soulful tenor ~ as the evolving Jean Valjean.  Mark DiConzo whose portrayal of Javert perfectly complements Klaphake's Valjean and captures the lawman's inevitable vulnerability.  The construction of this production is equally outstanding for its technical seamlessness and integrity. So, bravos as well to: Mark 4man and orchestra for an exhilarating and moving performance of the score; and Paul Black whose arrangement of both set and lighting can only be described as magical for the distinctive moods they create throughout the show.  The intersection of N. 77th Avenue and Paradise Lane in Peoria, Arizona looks nothing like the environs of Times Square, but within the edifice on that corner, Arizona Broadway Theatre has rolled out a production of Les Mis that is as good as any you'll see on the Great White Way." -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

for information on this production that runs through April 4th, click here.

photo: Arizona Broadway Theatre

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