Saturday night, my friend Andrea called me and asked if I wanted to be her date to Hale Centre's production of Les Miserables that night. The show sold out ages ago. I had heard wonderful things about the show, but I never thought I'd get the chance to actually see the show because I just didn't have the time or money--and it was sold out!
It was a beautiful show. I don't need to write about the plot or even this particular production.
Instead, I want to write about seeing this show on closing night.
There was something deliciously metatheatrical about this particular performance.
First of all--Hale is theatre in the round. You look down onto the action, rather then up at it. Instead of seeing the action played out across a stage--you see the action swirling in front of you. And you're always aware you're in a theatre because you're constantly gazing around at all the people watching the show. The audience is a part of the action of the play. Because of this, all theatrical experiences in this space have a bit of metatheatricality about them.
But closing night... that was a whole 'nother story.
Throughout the run, two casts of actors performed Monday thru Saturday, at least twice a day.
I imagine, knowing you needed to preserve your energy and strength for a week's worth of shows, the actors would have measured their energies and sang with gusto, but a touch of reservation. Saturday night's actors left EVERYTHING on that stage. I felt like I was watching actors finally free to give absolutely everything to a performance. Every gesture, every chord, every tear, everything was filled with all the energy and love they could muster.
I never really fell into the world of the play. I was more touched by the actor's story then by the story of the play. (Not that Les Miserables isn't a beautiful story!) But when the bishop offered Jean Val Jean redemption, I was more moved by the look shared between David Weekes and Casey Elliott as they cried over sharing the moment for the last time.
As Casey sang out "Bring Him Home", he held that sweet note at the end just a touch longer. And the audience roared with applause, not only for that night's performance, but in gratitude for all the previous performances.
My friend Andrea's daughter Abigail Scott played young Eponine. It was so delightful to see her running around the stage during "Master of The House" stealing luggage, serving beer, and stealing beer. She was a riot. My heart melted at the curtain call as she and young Cosette stood in front of the audience and tried to keep little smiles on their faces as their lips quivered and little tears streamed down their faces.
Adam Dietlein's performance as Javert... I was told I would cry in several different places, but I didn't. I was moved. I was inspired, but like I said earlier, I never really fell into the story. Not complaining--just saying, I didn't cry. Adam's performance was solid. I never felt like I was watching an actor on closing night with him. I felt like I was watching Javert. And when he jumped off the bridge into the foggy depths, I cried.
Madeline Weinberger had a beautiful moment as Eponine. She had several, but I was especially moved by her choice to just be. She didn't push. She didn't over emphasize. The words just poured out of her mouth without anything more than a breath. The choice to just sing--without affectation, without pushing, without supplication--it spoke volumes. It told me that she was tired, that the mere expression was all she could muster. It was moving in a way that anything more would have sullied.
Of course I watched Emily Bell's performance of Madame Thenardier carefully because that's the role I wanted to play. Of course she was magnificent. She wouldn't have won the part if she wasn't incredibly talented at both singing and acting. She was funny and grounded. Where everyone else's characters are caught up in flights of romanticism, she and her partner in crime, played perfectly by Josh Richardson, were pragmatic capitalists. My only complaint is that she looked too young to be Eponine's mother in the scenes after young Eponine becomes older Eponine. I was surprised they didn't put a streak of white in her hair or something. Despite the fact that I'm a good ten years older, I take great pride in the fact that I probably would have looked too young as well. (Gotta love looking young!)
Erin Royall Carlson's Fantine was beautiful, dangerous, and passionate. Her voice soared and her body quivered. She carried herself in this unbalanced way as though her whole life took place on a rocky ship that left her unbalanced and undone. The lovely ladies that surrounded her were equally mesmerizing. They were gritty and raw.
I've never really connected with the character of Cosette. She's lovely, but it's hard to remember that she was the poor neglected girl who sings about castles in clouds. Instead, she's the girl who gets the guy. (As the girl who does NOT get the guy, I don't relate well to this character.) Rachel Woodward was beautiful and she did a beautiful job. I'm not surprised that she won over Brad Robins heartstruck Marius.
Derek Smith's Enjolras was inspiring, as he should be. His followers were equally inspiring. He rode around the circle on his cart, waiving all of us on to fight in his revolution.
My favorite moment of the show was when he died. (I realize I'm a touch morbid.) I gasped. I think I even muttered "Holy Sh**!" During the fighting, the guns went off and fire blazed in spurts all over the stage. People fell injured and crawled back on top of the barricade (remember, we're looking down on the barricade, not up at it--brilliant work by set designer Kacey Udy). At the moment of death though--when these brave soldiers died...the light designer Brian Healy orchestrated a shot of light--or rather--a BEAM of light to catch the character in their moment of death. The actor would freeze in that moment and then fall to the ground. All around the stage--shot, beam, freeze, death. One after the other. Now you understand why I swore. It was an unexpected bit of magic. Not only did you feel the sorrow of their death, but in the same instant, you felt like these poor souls were carried immediately to heaven.
And of course, it was no surprise to see the souls return to carry Jean Val Jean to heaven at the end of the show.
It was a beautiful production. Kelly DeHaan's musical direction was pitch perfect. (Sometimes a good cliche is hard to resist.) Director David Tinney found delicious nuances in the story. Peggy Willis and Suzanne Carling's costumes were a treat. The colors were muted. The shapes were intriguing. The layers, the structure, the lack of structure--all told compelling stories. No one really notices sound until something goes wrong--and I didn't notice Dan Morgan's sound at all. (That's a lie, I noticed quite a bit of lovely nuances that added to the story... but you know what I mean..)
I'd tell you to go see the show, but it's likely you already saw it. And it closed.
So instead, I'll encourage you to just go and enjoy live theatre. If nothing else, remember the beautiful moments that happen when audiences and actors come together to tell a story. Truly, a theatre is a hallowed place.