Theater review: Pros and cons to Hale Centre Theatre’s 'Les Misérables'

Published: Monday, Feb. 24 2014 3:00 p.m. MST

Casey Elliott as Valjean, left, and Adam Dietlein as Javert in Hale Centre Theatres production of Les Misrables.

Hale Centre Theatre

“LES MISÉRABLES,” Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City, through April 19, $16-$32 (801-984-9000 or hct.org)

WEST VALLEY CITY — Along with his acclaim as the author of “Les Misérables,” Victor Hugo wrote the first recorded one-character telegraph. And equally astonishing, the response was also a single keystroke in length.

Curious how his 530,982-word novel was selling, Hugo wired his publisher:

“?”

He got this reply:

“!”

Following Hugo’s template yet failing to devise an equally clever ultra-abbreviated evaluation of Hale Centre Theatre’s staging of “Les Misérables,” I submit a two-character review:

“:|” — the straight face emoticon, to indicate indecision. Or more clearly, consider the pros and cons and then decide.

There are strong performers in the secondary lead roles and a few impressive enough to surprise. The actors in the demanding lead roles of Jean Valjean and Javert (in the Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday cast) underwhelmed this reviewer.

The “Les Misérables” score is glorious and largely well sung. The accompaniment is not performed live, but it is loud.

The recorded tracks are lackluster, more closely resembling electronica karaoke CDs than the lush orchestrations audiences are accustomed to. (Outside of the high school stagings of the shortened “Les Misérables Jr.,” this is the state’s first production without live music.) This robs performers of spontaneity as they must respond to the music, rather than the live musicians responding to the performers.

Hale Centre is an in-the-round theater. “Les Misérables” has nearly always been performed in a proscenium theater. During crucial scenes when central characters die, these deaths cannot be clearly seen from each section of the theater. Fantine dies lying in a bed, and Valjean dies seated in a chair, two scenes impossible to stage without their backs to some audience members.

The important battle scene takes place at the barricades, a large set piece traditionally on a turntable. But curiously, Hale Centre’s trademark rotating stage is not employed for the barricades scene. Eponine and even Gavroche die behind the immobile barricades, with only the back of their heads visible in certain sections. (It’s recommended that ticket-holders in the southeast and northeast seating areas attempt to relocate.)

On the website of Musical Theatre International, which holds the performance rights license, “Les Misérables” receives a PG rating. The Hale Centre text is altered to remove objectionable words. A word that would not incur a FCC fine on broadcast TV is muffled by a kiss.

In this reviewed cast, Casey Elliott plays Valjean and Adam Dietlein performs as Javert.

Derek Smith as Enjolras and Rachel Woodward as Cosette perform nicely, and Erin Royall Carlson as Fantine, Brad Robins as Marius and Madeline Weinberger as Eponine startle with extraordinary vocals and vivacious performances. Another standout is a spirited Josh Richardson as Thenardier, yet Emily Bell as Madame Thenardier is listless.

Director David Tinney stages beautiful tableaus and expertly guides the best performances. The choral work by music director Kelly DeHaan is most impressive. The producers seek to augment the already epic scale with smoke machines aplenty and echo chamber vocal reverberations added by the sound mixing board operators.

Peggy Willis and Suzanne Carling oversaw the costumes, a number of which are on loan and first impressed when they debuted in Pioneer Theatre Company’s production.

As with any review, these observations are this writer’s and by design share a single perspective. Hale Centre Theatre has a healthy subscription base, and considering the many die-hard fans of “Les Misérables,” the production nevertheless assures “$.”

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