By Wayne Harada
“Les Miserables,” at the Paliku Theatre, is a lush production with passion, precision and professionalism throughout the ranks.
As directed by Ron Bright and produced by Tom Holowach under auspices of the Windward Community Theatre, the musical is beautifully sung by a cast of professional and theater devotees, some working for the beloved director for the first time, many returning to share the joy of community theater with their mentor over the past 50 years.
An amazing vocal ensemble, coached by Mary Chesnut Hicks, is also a high-water mark for this production, which retains the breadth and depth of the original Alain Bloublil/Claude-Michel Schonberg classic from the London and Broadway stage. The choral work by the company is superb, earning hearty applause and hurrahs.
The show is peopled with talent on all burners, led by Kip Wilborn as Jean Valjean, the wrongly imprisoned soldier pursued by his nemesis, Leslie “Buz” Tennent as Inspector Javert. They are opera singers doing this one for the first time, and they deliver, as actors and as singers, punctuating the score with agility and mobility, with able and adorable assist from local actor Cliffton Hall, back from his normal job as a Broadway performer, who adds a smidgin of homegrown status and accomplishment to the plate.
And homegrown is the operative word here; this is purely and magically a concoction by locals, for locals, and if you ask me, it could easily tour with the cache of local artists aboard. I’m proud to say that this production easily is this community’s “line king,” with a sellout inevitable and available seats very scarce.
The plot, of course, is from the historic novel by Victor Hugo of wartime France focusing on student revolutionaries of the era and soldiers on both sides of the war. The template includes themes of right vs. wrong, broken dreams and broken hearts, freedom and dissension, greed and goodwill, and other human values still relevant today.
All roles are wisely cast.
Wilborn brings reverence and calm to his Valjean, and his offstage religious beliefs creep into his performance. He has the pipes — and sensitivity — to make his “Bring Him Home” one of the weepers, but his versatility is admirable and surfaces in confrontational moments, notably when his character is caught stealing silver for survival, fighting for time to provide comfort and allegience while taunted by Javert, and providing fatherly solace to a young Cosette he eventually adopts.
His is the first-ever Valjean I've experienced whose hands go to prayer motif at the end of "Bring Him Home," accompanied by other religious gestures, adding relevance and naturalism to the moment. Valjean also gets into prayer mode, utilizing the candleholders given him by the Bishop early on, before his journey to the heavens. These additions work wonders from the character's deeply spiritual standpoint.
Tennent’s height and deep tones, combined with his body language, makes his Javert a formidable figure, in his solo “Stars” as well as in a number of choregraphed combative moments with Valjean and the student revolutionists.
Hall, last seen here as Fiyero in a touring “Wicked” production, is a credible romantic with a tenor that melts hearts. His harmonies in occasional duets reflect his easy style, and his evocative “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” solo is dark, somber and expressive, undercoated by grief and guilt as the sole soldier surviving a bullet.
Michael Bright as Enjolras has that flag-waving memorable scene, “The People’s Song,” and though he’s been on the road a la Hall on Broadway tours, he makes his Enjolras a homecoming victory. Nothing like a hometown crowd to root for a warrior.
The women are equally powerful and memorable.
Jana Anguay Alcain delivers one of the signature tunes, “I Dreamed a Dream,” bringing vulnerability and compassion to Fantine, the distressed, ill mom forced to sell her hair and her body to raise funds to pay an innkeeper and his wife to provide care for her young daughter, Cosette.
Shawna Lynn Masuda as the lovestruck tomboy, Eponine, is sweet and loyal towards Marius, who relies on her for friendship not romance. Masuda makes her solo, “On My Own,” all her own, and her dying scene with Marius is honest and poignant.
Kim Anderson as Cosette brings grace and elegance in her unexpected romance with Marius, and their “A Heart Full of Love,” with Eponine’s intervention, shows sparks that evolve in Act II.
And that one-two punch, Thenardier and Mme. Thenardier, sung by a real-life married couple, Scott Moura and Zenia Moura, are perfectly suited for the show, bringing along a wealth of comedic tricks. They look, sing, sound and prance about perfectly in their classic and commanding “Master of the House” sequence and the smaller wedding party scene. They are folks you don’t want at your party, but spot-on for “Les Miz.”
The two tykes in the production, Oliver deClive-Lowe as Gavroche and Alyse Glaser as Little Cosette, are darlings in their roles, who could project a bit more to be heard. They alternate with Matias Durkin and Camille Perry (the girls take turn as Young Eponine, too).
Music and sound are key challenges for “Les Miz,” and Clarke Bright conducts a marvelous 14-piece orchestra, performing the luxurious and mood-evoking music, with resounding resourcefulness that never intrudes on the lead singers. Even on those resonating chorale chorus numbers involving multi voices.
Marcelo Pacleb recreates the iconic three-step choreography for the crusading scene; he is one of the three regular behind-the-sceners who are part of the artistic design crew for Bright’s shows.
Lloyd S. Riford II’s set and lighting design and R. Andrew Doan’s technical direction are part of the precision team that enhances the look and texture on stage. There were a few tech glitches on opening night, surely gone by now, regarding lighting and sound.
Lacy Rohlf coordinated costume design and rentals; yes, some were imported rather than built because of cost and time.
Director Bright has waited about 30 years to direct his dream show and his fortitude and style are evident with abundant joy from the front of the house.
Go see what the magic and applause and standing ovations are all about — if you can score a ticket or two. Tip: some walk-in seats are held for first-comers at the box office prior to curtain.
Where: Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 27. (Extension dates included, though additional Wednesday shows are contemplated but not yet formally announced)
Info: 235-7310, www.paliku.com